UN chief opposes airstrikes on extremists in Iraq

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Saturday, June 21, 2014


NEW YORK -- United Nations (UN) Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon warned Friday that any possible airstrikes against Sunni extremists in Iraq could be ineffective and backfire. He urged Iraq's feuding communities to unite against the terrorists who have captured a vast swath of territory.

The U.N. chief also urged the Iraqi government and its supporters not to retaliate against Sunni communities in revenge for "barbaric attacks" by the al-Qaida-inspired Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.

The Iraqi government has sought U.S. airstrikes to stem the insurgency by Sunni extremists who are pressing toward Baghdad. President Barack Obama has held off for now but the U.S. is collecting aerial intelligence over Iraq. If the U.S. were to proceed with airstrikes, officials did not rule out hitting targets in neighboring Syria, where ISIL also has deep ties.

Secretary-General Ban warned that "military strikes against (ISIL) might have little lasting effect or even be counter-productive if there is no movement towards inclusive government in Iraq."

The secretary-general addressed the Iraq crisis in a speech to the Asia Society on Syria, saying "suddenly, the cohesion and integrity of two major countries, not just one, is in question."

Calling sectarian warfare "a disaster for all," Ban said it is "imperative" that the Iraqi government and its supporters avoid reprisals against Sunni communities.

"The Sunni extremists of (ISIL) are trying to show that the governments in Baghdad, Iran, and the United States are working together to support atrocities against Sunnis," Ban said. "This would help them mobilize support from the Sunni majority that does not share the extremists' agenda. It is essential that the government of Iraq and its supporters do everything possible to avoid falling into this trap."

The secretary-general said arms and fighters have crossed the porous border between Syria and Iraq and he urged religious and political leaders from the region — including Saudi Arabia which backs Syria's rebels and Iran which supports President Bashar Assad's government — to call for restraint and avoid further sectarian violence.

Addressing the regional threat from extremists was one of six points in the secretary-general's new blueprint to address the Syrian conflict. Now in its fourth year, Ban said the death toll from the "horrific" war may be well over 150,000 with half the country's more than 22 million people displaced from their homes.

He demanded that the international community act, calling for a U.N. arms embargo on all parties in the Syrian conflict, demanding that foreign powers and groups halt military support to the combatants, and calling on all parties to immediately release detainees. (AP)

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