In Middle East, John Kerry Searches for Partners in Western Fight Against ISIS

Secretary of State John Kerry and Sameh Shoukry, the Egyptian foreign minister, in Cairo. (Credit: Mohamed El-Shahed/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images)
Secretary of State John Kerry and Sameh Shoukry, the Egyptian foreign minister, in Cairo. (Credit: Mohamed El-Shahed/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images)

Secretary of State John Kerry received broad assurances but no public commitments from Egypt on Saturday as he continued his tour of the Middle East to try to assemble a coalition behind an American campaign against the extremist group known as the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

In Baghdad, meanwhile, the new prime minister took a small step toward alleviating the deep alienation that has made some in the Sunni Muslim minority receptive to ISIS: He said Saturday that he had ordered the Iraqi security forces to stop “the indiscriminate shelling” of civilian communities under the control of the militants.

Together, the professions of good intentions in Baghdad and Cairo underscored the long road ahead for the Obama administration as it tries to assemble a regional coalition to roll back and dismantle ISIS.

After meeting with Mr. Kerry in Cairo, Sameh Shoukry, Egypt’s foreign minister, declared at a joint news conference that “Egypt believes it is very important for the world to continue their efforts strongly to fight this extremism.”

But Egyptian officials declined to specify what help they would provide in the campaign against ISIS, and Mr. Shoukry made it clear that he also had in mind fighting Islamist militants at home and in neighboring Libya.

Mr. Kerry has already visited Baghdad; Amman, Jordan; and Ankara, Turkey; and he attended an emergency meeting of regional governments in Jidda, Saudi Arabia, in which Arab nations endorsed a coordinated military and political campaign against ISIS. Saudi Arabia has pledged to allow the training of Syrian rebel forces opposed to ISIS at bases in its territory, but no country in the region has publicly detailed what military support it might provide.

Early Sunday, Prime Minister Tony Abbott of Australia committed aircraft and military advisers to the effort. He said in a statement that the commitment was a response to a formal request from the United States, adding that combat troops would not be deployed. “The ISIL death cult threatens the people of Iraq, the region and the wider world,” Mr. Abbott said, referring to the group by the acronym for an alternate name, the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant.

The Obama administration is keen to enlist material support from regional powers with Sunni Muslim majorities like Egypt, Turkey and Saudi Arabia to avoid the impression that the United States is intervening in a sectarian war on behalf of the Shiite-dominated Iraqi government against its opponents in the Sunni minority, some of whom have lent support to ISIS.

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SOURCE: MICHAEL R. GORDON and DAVID D. KIRKPATRICK 
The New York Times