France will join the U.S.-led air strikes targeting extremists in Iraq as part of an expanding international effort to combat the Islamic State group, Iraq's new prime minister said after talks with the French president on Friday.
Haider al-Abadi's remarks came after talks with François Hollande, who was in Baghdad to bolster Iraq's new government as it struggles to unite the nation amid the rampage by the Islamic State group.
"In order to confront Daesh, we need aerial support from our allies," al-Abadi said, referring to the group by its Arabic acronym. "The French President promised me today that France will participate in this effort, hitting the positions of the terrorists in Iraq."
Al-Abadi spoke at a joint press conference with Hollande in Baghdad. Neither of the two leaders provided details about when the French could join the aerial campaign.
Hollande added that France has delivered four arms shipments and 60 tonnes of humanitarian equipment to Iraq.
Hollande's trip, and a conference that Paris is hosting Monday on Iraq, are the first steps in a long-term effort against Islamic State militants who have captured large swaths of land straddling the Syria-Iraq border with the goal of establishing a self-styled caliphate.
Earlier Friday, at a press conference with Iraq's President Fouad Massoum, Hollande said that the Islamic State group is waging a war on "all people who do not share their vision or ideas."
The aim of the Paris conference, he said "is to co-ordinate the aid, the support [and] the actions to work for the unity of Iraq and against this terrorist group."
The United States launched air strikes and humanitarian aid missions on Aug. 8 to boost the efforts of waning Iraqi and Kurdish security forces. The air strikes marked a significant shift in the U.S. strategy in Iraq, where the military fully withdrew in late 2011, after nearly a decade of war.
French air strikes would likely start in co-ordination with the United States – but would not include ground troops, a senior French official said Thursday, speaking spoke on condition of anonymity according to government policy.
Hollande's visit to Baghdad is the French President's first visit to Iraq since the crisis escalated with the Islamic State group's blitz and the fall of Iraq's second-largest city, Mosul, in June.
Hollande has been one of the most militarily aggressive leaders in modern French history, sending troops to Mali and Central African Republic. France was the first European government to start arming Kurdish authorities against Islamic State militants last month.
This is in part because France fears violence on its own soil. Authorities are struggling to stop the flow of hundreds of French radicals who have joined extremists in Syria and Iraq and who could return to Europe to stage attacks. A Frenchman who went to Syria and held American journalists hostage is the chief suspect in a May attack on a Brussels Jewish museum that left four dead.
"These people have only one idea: to rape, crucify, assassinate. We must all mobilize to make them retreat, neutralize them and get rid of them," French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said this week of the Islamic State militants.
The French government – which vigorously opposed the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq a decade ago – insists any action be at the request of the Iraqi government. France does not want to be a pawn or lapdog in a U.S.-run war, but will play a "significant" role in the coalition and make its own decisions on what to contribute, the French official also said on Thursday.
Unlike the U.S., France is stopping short of possible action in Syria, at least for now. The French fear that air strikes on extremists in Syria could strengthen President Bashar al-Assad's hand and raise international legal problems.