Obama warned strikes on IS may ‘set region on fire’

President Obama pledged to lead a broad coalition to fight IS. Picture: Getty

President Obama pledged to lead a broad coalition to fight IS. Picture: Getty

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UNITED States president Barack Obama’s decision to authorise air strikes against Islamic State targets in Syria came under fire from Russia yesterday, and was also criticised by Syrian and Iranian officials.

Russia, the main international ally of Syrian president Bashar Assad, said such military action without a United Nations Security Council resolution “would be an act of aggression and flagrant violation of international law”.

Syrian and Iranian officials criticised the Obama administration for excluding them from the international coalition coming together in the battle against Islamic State (IS). A state-run Syrian daily newspaper warned that unauthorised US air strikes on Syria might trigger the “first sparks of fire” in the region.

In Britain, Prime Minister David Cameron was facing demands for a Commons statement after Downing Street seemed to contradict Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond, with conflicting messages about whether the UK will support the air strikes.

Mr Hammond, in Berlin for talks with his German counterpart, initially ruled out UK participation, following the decision by parliament last year to oppose military action in Syria.

He said MPs had rejected military action in Syria and that decision would not be revisited.

However, Mr Cameron’s official spokesman said Mr Hammond had been referring to action against the Syrian regime and nothing had been ruled out in relation to IS.

Ten Arab states, including Saudia Arabia, yesterday agreed to work with America in tackling the threat from IS, following talks with US secretary of state John Kerry.

Syria’s main western-backed opposition group welcomed the decision on US strikes, saying it stood “ready and willing” to join with the international community to defeat the militants.

But the Syrian National Coalition said air strikes had to be coupled with a strategy for ultimately toppling Mr Assad.

Kurdish politicians in Iraq similarly praised Mr Obama’s announcement of wider air strikes and assistance to Iraqi forces.

Hoshyar Zebari, a Kurdish politician and one of Iraq’s newly appointed deputy prime ministers, said: “There is an urgent need for action.

“People cannot sit on the fence. This is a mortal threat to everybody.”

The US began launching limited air strikes against IS targets in Iraq early last month at the request of former Iraqi prime minister Nouri al-Maliki.

The American firepower provided a significant boost to Iraqi forces, including the Kurdish Peshmerga fighters, battling to win back land lost to the militant group.

IS, who are Sunni extremists, have seized about a third of Iraq and Syria, declaring a caliphate in areas under their control where they apply their strict interpretation of Islamic law.

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