Bringing together an impressive roster of participants, a hastily organized, high-level international conference on peace and security in Iraq took place yesterday in Paris, hosted by French President Francois Hollande. The short, day-long meeting in France came the day after a third, British hostage was executed on camera by an ISIL militant, and was meant to show the resolve of a global coalition of unlikely partners. Described as strange bedfellows, the Paris conference participants signed a declaration of agreement, stating their unified position against ISIL and willingness to use “any means necessary” to help the Iraqi government combat them.
Here are the four things you need to know about the conference:
1. A (nearly) global coalition
The group of 26 participating countries included the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, the key transatlantic partners and other allies, as well as the UN, the Arab League and important regional players, such as Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the UAE. Conspicuous by their absence, though, were Iran and Syria. The American and Iranian governments both said it was their decision not to cooperate with each other, while French officials discussed how some Arab nations blocked Tehran’s participation. Syria – shunned by the Arab League since 2011 – was left out. Even when it comes to fighting ISIL, Assad is still not considered someone to contend with. Meanwhile, France – with its newly (re)discovered taste for a proactive foreign policy – and Iraq – whose new president and inclusive government were premiering on the global stage – played hosts to the conference.
2. Intervention in Iraq, yes, Syria…?
In last week’s big announcement on ISIL, President Obama opened the door for an expanded air strike campaign which would target ISIL positions in Syria. However, the Paris conference agreement said nothing at all about Syria, not even referencing it by name once. While eager partner France is already flying military planes over Iraq, and there seems to be general – albeit tenuous – consensus to do whatever it takes to defeat ISIL in Iraq. When it comes to Syria, though, where ISIL is even more powerful than in Iraq, there seems to be no appetite among the “coalition” to act there, whether for legal, logistical or political issues. Will the U.S. really go it alone?
3. Tenuous military commitments from major Arab/Sunni partners
Notably absent from the declaration, however, was the lack of specific military commitments from the nearly 30 nations present in Paris. Currently, France is the only country to have made a concrete promise to participate in air strikes. U.S. officials announced – without naming them – that several Arab nations will participate in the air campaign, but said that Secretary Kerry would specify who they are during upcoming Congressional hearings (hint: it’s Saudi Arabia and the UAE). Turkey and Egypt, despite having been present in Paris, did not make commitments. What role is there for the Middle Eastern partners? Can a coalition where there are so many conflicting, overlapping interests and loyalties deliver a successful, coordinated, lethal blow to the jihadists in Iraq?
4. A name as fluid as its identity – from ISIS to Daesh
Another interesting outcome from the Paris conference is the choice of language to describe ISIL – all of the official declarations use the term “Daesh” instead. Many – from imams to French foreign minister Fabius – feel that the label “Islamic State” name is problematic: IS, or ISIL, is of course not a state, and co-opts Islam to justify barbarism. Using the term Daesh – the arabic acronym for ISIL, apparently associated with those who oppose the group – is meant to undermine the illegitimate falsehoods of their name. Will the new, more confrontational name for the group stick? How will that play into the public opinions of the “coalition” partners?