China Offers To Help Iraq Defeat Extremists

FINANCIAL TIMES

China Offers To Help Iraq Defeat Extremists

Najmeh Bozorgmehr in Tehran and Lucy Hornby in Beijing

China has offered to help Iraq defeat Sunni extremists with support for air strikes, according to Ibrahim Jafari, Iraq’s foreign minister.

Wang Yi, Mr Jafari’s Chinese
counterpart, made the offer to help defeat the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, known as Isis, when the two men met in New York at September’s UN antiterrorism meeting, Mr Jafari said.

Any Chinese assistance would be outside the US-led coalition. “[Mr Wang] said, our policy does not allow us to get involved in the international coalition,” Mr Jafari told the Financial Times in Tehran, where he was attending an anti-extremism conference this week.

“I welcomed this initiative. I told him . . . we are ready to deal with the coalition and also co-operate with countries outside this coalition.”

China’s official policy is of non-interference in other countries’ internal affairs. Although it does sell weapons to many other countries since abandoning the Maoist goal of “exporting revolution” decades ago China has avoided direct military involvement beyond its borders.

Growing economic and strategic interests have tested that policy. China’s navy began escorting ship convoys around the Horn of Africa after Somali piracy threatened oil and ore cargoes. Last year for the first time it contributed troops to a UN peacekeeping operation in Mali. A battalion of 700 Chinese troops is now joining UN Peacekeepers in South Sudan, with a mandate to guard Chinese-invested oilfields there.

Isis has taken swaths of Iraqi territory since June. The US has led the air strikes on the Islamist group’s positions in Iraq and parts of Syria over the past four months. Pentagon claims that Iran launched separate air strikes last month have not been confirmed.

China’s defence ministry declined to comment on Mr Jafari’s remarks. Hong Lei, a foreign ministry spokesman, would not comment on whether China was supplying air support or missiles. In their meeting, Mr Wang had told Mr Jafari China backed Iraq’s efforts to strengthen its anti-terror capacity, including intelligence exchange and personnel training, Mr Hong said.

“China has been fighting terrorism and has been providing support and assistance to Iraq, including the Kurdish region, in our own way, and we will continue to do so within the best of our capabilities,” Mr Hong said.

China is the largest foreign investor in Iraq’s oil sector and stands to lose the billions its state-owned groups have ploughed into the country if the fields are lost to the insurgents. Sinopec operates in Kurdistan, while China National Petroleum Corp has interests in the Rumaila field near Basra and in Maysan province near the Iranian border. CNPC has already in effect abandoned oilfields it operated in Syria.

Global Times, the Chinese newspaper, reported this week that Isis crews were dismantling equipment at a small refinery west of Baiji in which a Chinese company has invested for use at refineries the group controls in Mosul, Iraq’s second-biggest city.

Isis has suffered military setbacks as a result of the US-led air campaign and operations by the Iraqi military, Shia volunteers and Kurdish peshmerga forces. But Baghdad has made only minor progress in reclaiming territory in northern and western Iraq.

What Iraq needed now was more weapons, Mr Jafari said: “Our problem is with the supply of arms and weaponry.” The Iraqi army was trained and equipped by US forces before 2011 but much of its US-supplied arsenal has fallen into the hands of Isis.

There was no appetite in Baghdad for overseas troops on the ground, because of fears this would fuel anti-foreigner sentiment, Mr Jafari added.

However, Mr Jafari hoped Mosul would be retaken and Isis defeated in 2015, although this would be “difficult”.

Addressing the concerns of rights groups and diplomats that Shia militias have been torturing and killing Sunni civilians in their fight against Isis, Mr Jafari acknowledged there had been “sporadic” violations by volunteer forces. These groups should “act under the umbrella of the armed forces”, he said, and that anyone found to have committed wrongdoing would be held accountable.

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