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Paris Meeting To Focus On Taking Ramadi Back From Militants

  • RFE/RL

An Iraqi soldier holds a rocket-propelled grenade during a military operation near Ramadi on June 1.

An Iraqi soldier holds a rocket-propelled grenade during a military operation near Ramadi on June 1.

Iraq's plans to recapture the western city of Ramadi from the Islamic State will dominate a meeting in Paris on June 2 of foreign ministers from a broad international coalition fighting the militant group.

In the wake of the fall of Ramadi last month, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi will outline how his government intends to retake it and what coalition partners can do to help, a senior State Department official told reporters.

Ministers from 20 Western and Middle Eastern countries in the coalition will stress how it is essential for Iraq to be more inclusive of the nation's Sunni minority to be successful against the militants.

"Ramadi was a big blow," said a French diplomatic source. "It's crucial that everybody in Iraq is part of the fight."

IS has been consolidating the ground it has gained in the vast Sunni-dominated province of Anbar since April. The extremist group appeared to send a message to the coalition on June 1 with a massive suicide bomb attack in the area northwest of Baghdad where troops are preparing a counteroffensive.

The attack killed at least 37 policemen.

Against that backdrop, Abadi, a moderate Shi'ite, must try to persuade more Sunni Arab tribes to join the fight, a challenge he has struggled to meet.

Since the fall of Ramadi, about 800 tribal fighters have volunteered and are getting paychecks and weapons, the U.S. official said -- representing only a small share of the estimated 11,000 fighters that coalition forces are training for a counteroffensive against IS.

Abadi, who co-chairs the meeting with French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, will also seek to show that he can control the powerful Shi'ite militias whose military muscle he depends on.

Earlier abuses by the Shi'a after retaking Tikrit stoked Sunni anger toward his government and fueled support for IS.

Abadi has sought to ensure all Shi'ite militias are under his authority. But the disastrous rout of Iraqi security forces in Ramadi led him to ask the Hashed al-Shaabi, a powerful umbrella organization which includes Iran-backed Shi'ite militias, to help block the advance of IS.

Pentagon officials say some of those militias remain outside of the government's control.

The talks will include a core group of foreign ministers from Britain, Canada, Germany, France, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates.

John Allen, the retired U.S. general who serves as White House envoy to the coalition, also will take part.

But U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who is recovering from a cycling accident in Switzerland, will not be able to attend in person and instead will listen in by phone, officials said.

To bolster their support for Iraq, coalition members are creating a "stabilization fund," which would help the Iraqi government deliver reconstruction aid immediately in areas retaken from IS, the official said.

The fund was designed to back "immediate quick-hit projects" to help clear homemade bombs and allow residents to return to their homes.

With reporting by AFP and Reuters