09/10/2014, 00.00
VATICAN - IRAQ - UNITED STATES
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For the fight against the Islamic state, Obama chooses the Saudis, the Vatican chooses the UN

by Bernardo Cervellera
The US president is set to present a plan to fight caliphate militias. His would-be alliance includes states that have provided ISIL with financial and ideological support, and excludes Syria, Iran and Russia. Pope Francis, Card Sandri, and Mgr Tomasi, the Vatican observer at the UN, demand that the United Nations be involved to enhance the fight's effectiveness.

Rome (AsiaNews) - The Catholic Church and US President Barack Obama do not seem to see much eye to eye when it comes to Iraq. Whilst the US leader plans to launch a fight against the Islamic State (IS) with an alliance of 40 states, some Vatican leaders, following in the footsteps of Poe Francis Poe and Bishop Tomasi, stress the need to go through the United Nations.

A few hours before US President Barack Obama delivers his speech at 7 PM (EST), Card Leonardo Sandri, prefect of the Congregation for Oriental Churches, told US bishop that, "even as American citizens, you are called to support the role of the United Nations, prominently present in New York, as the appropriate organ for decisions and concrete interventions in matters of general international concern."

Card Sandri travelled to Washington to thank the US Catholic Church for its humanitarian aid to the Christian communities in the Holy Land, as well as in Iraq and Syria.

In early September, Mgr Silvano Maria Tomasi, permanent observer of the Holy See to the United Nations in Geneva, stressed the urgent need to uphold the international effort to "protect" Iraqi minorities, which was taken "in good faith" under international and humanitarian law.

Today US President Barack Obama will deliver a speech to the nation going against that substantial part of the US electorate that voted for him to end military interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Although few details are available, Obama is not likely to deploy ground troops. He will probably back airstrikes, even within Syria, against IS rear ground bases. And several European countries and NATO members will likely back air strikes as well as offer military advice and training.

"We are going to systematically degrade their capabilities; we're going to shrink the territory that they control; and, ultimately, we're going to defeat them," Obama said in an interview a few days ago.

His plan will also include international border controls to stop the recruitment of young Westerners into the ranks of the jihadist militias as well as intelligence sharing among governments. It will also entail financial and military aid to anti-Assad Islamic militias that have been increasingly marginalised and beaten back by ISIS over the past year.

The anti-IS alliance includes NATO members (including Turkey), and many Arab nations, most notably Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, UAE, and Kuwait. Qatar will remain on the sidelines, and for good reasons: it is one of the Islamic State's main financial backers despite being a US ally and allowing Washington to use the Udeid Air Base.

The fact is that all Arab countries involved in the fight against Bashar al Assad share Qatar's ambiguous position: funding Islamist militias, bankrolling the jihad, and help militants train within their borders (Turkey). In addition, many of the weapons sold by the United States, Great Britain, France, and Germany to the Saudis, Qataris and Emiratis later found their way into the hands of Syria's Islamist opposition Syria and the Islamic State.

In view of this, Obama's plan is likely to fail, and this for various reasons.

First, to win a war against the militants only with air power and no ground troops will be very difficult. Secondly, it is hard to fight the Islamist army with its financial and ideological backers as allies. Finally, it is hard to understand why the fight against the Islamic State's brutal hegemony should exclude states that have many reasons to oppose it, namely Syria, Iran, Russia, and possibly China.

Of course, Assad is a dictator, but his moral standing is neither better nor worse than that of the monarchs of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, or Bahrain. The same can be said about Iran whose attitude towards Christians is a thousand times more tolerant than that of Saudi Arabia.

Such contradictions and exclusions raise fears that the US-led alliance will only back the special interests of its Arab partners. The net result will be the marginalisation of Iran, the overthrow of Assad, and the break-up of Iraq and the Middle East. Even if the US plays the region's hit man, the liberation of Mosul and Qaraqosh will be last on the list of priorities.

Going through the United Nations to fight the former ISIL is a must, and could lead to greater cooperation in the international community. Even Egypt has made it clear to Obama that it would make a military commitment only through the UN.

The advice provided by the pope, Card Sandri, and Mgr Tomasi are not spiritual observations or exhortations; it is sound international politics. The aim is to ensure that the war does not lead to further disasters, that the aggressor is beaten and that the bases for peace in the Middle East are laid.

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