BAGHDAD: Iraq’s Prime Minister-designate Haider al-Abadi said Sunday during talks with Iran’s foreign minister that international efforts would be necessary to destroy ISIS militants who have seized swathes of his country and of Syria. Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif of Iran, likely to wield influence over the formation of Abadi’s new Cabinet, reaffirmed Tehran’s support for Iraq’s territorial unity and its fight against militants.
“Abadi pointed to the presence of many dangers posed in the region as a result of the existence of the terrorist gang [ISIS] which requires regional and international efforts to exterminate this terrorist organization,” his office said in a statement after the talks with Zarif.
The advance of ISIS through northern Iraq has alarmed the Baghdad government and its Western allies, prompting the first U.S. airstrikes in Iraq since U.S. occupation forces pulled out in 2011.
Bombings across Iraq killed at least 35 people Saturday in apparent revenge attacks after an attack against a Sunni mosque in Diyala province Friday killed 68 worshippers, further deepening the country’s sectarian conflict.
A committee of security officials and lawmakers is probing the Diyala attack and the results of the investigation are expected early this week.
The attack led two major Sunni parliamentary blocs to pull out of talks on forming a new government, creating a hurdle for Abadi as he tries to muster support from Sunnis and ethnic Kurds to take on the ISIS-led insurgency, a policy of reaching out that Zarif praised.
“We feel very comfortable about the democratic process in Iraq which has reached to a logical result through selecting Prime Minister-designate Haider al-Abadi to form an inclusive government that comprises all Iraqi sects,” Zarif told a news conference with Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshiyar Zebari.
“The Islamic Republic of Iran will keep standing by your side. Iran backs the unity of Iraq and the stabilizing of security and considers that as a priority in its foreign policy,” he said.
Asked about reports that Iranian soldiers were fighting alongside Iraqi forces in the battle against ISIS, Zarif said:
“The information about the presence of Iranian soldiers in Iraq is not correct. We don’t have a single Iranian soldier on Iraqi soil because Iraq does not need those soldiers.”
As Zarif visited Baghdad, security forces backed by air support battled a renewed militant push toward the Baiji refinery, which once accounted for some 50 percent of Iraq’s supplies of refined petroleum products, and has been targeted in the past.
ISIS militants have mostly routed Kurdish forces in the north in recent weeks, seizing more towns, oil fields and Iraq’s largest dam. Backed by U.S. airpower, Kurdish forces later took back control of Mosul Dam and Sunday they seized the district of Qaraj.
“We launched an attack this morning on positions of [ISIS] gunmen” in the Qaraj area southeast of Mosul, forcing the militants out after two hours of fighting, peshmerga Staff Col. Salim al-Sorchi said.
In retaliation for the U.S. airstrikes, ISIS released a video showing one of its black-clad fighters beheading American journalist James Foley.
Britain’s ambassador to the United States, Peter Westmacott, told CNN’s “State of the Union” program that Britain was putting a great deal of resource into identifying the suspect, including voice-recognition technology.
Westmacott said he could not give more details, but added: “I do know from my colleagues at home that we are close.”
The Sunday Times, meanwhile, claimed that a London-based rapper, Abdel-Majed Abdel-Bary, 23, was a key suspect in the case, based on investigations being conducted by American and British intelligence services.
And in Saudi Arabia, Arab foreign ministers discussed the Syrian conflict and the rise of “extremism” in the region, the official SPA news agency reported.
The closed-door talks in the Red Sea city of Jeddah was attended by the foreign ministers of Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar, as well as an adviser to Jordan’s foreign minister, said SPA.
They discussed the Syrian conflict and “challenges including the rise of terrorist extremist ideology,” while Egyptian officials indicated that the meeting would cover the insurgencies in both Syria and Iraq, and the role of ISIS militants.
The ministers agreed on “the need to seriously work to deal with these crises and challenges to preserve security and stability in Arab countries,” it said, without giving details.