US seeks to use Syria rebels to fight Iraq rebels
JEDDAH - US Secretary of States John Kerry said Friday that Syria's moderate opposition could play a role in pushing back jihadists who have seized swathe of territory in neighbouring Iraq.
Kerry was speaking in Saudi Arabia, where he met Western-backed Syrian National Coalition leader Ahmad Jarba.
"The moderate opposition in Syria... has the ability to be a very important player in pushing back against (Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant) ISIL's presence... not just in Syria, but also in Iraq."
"Jarba represents a tribe that reaches right into Iraq. He knows people there, and his point of view and that of the Syrian opposition will be very important going forward," said Kerry, adding that "we are also in a moment of increased effort with the opposition."
ISIL jihadists, who have been part of ongoing fighting between the Syrian army and rebel factions, have been emboldened in their territorial ambitions and seized chunks of neighbouring Iraq.
In what would be the biggest boost yet by US President Barack Obama's administration to Syria's rebels in the three-year conflict, the White House has asked US lawmakers to release $500 million to train and equip the moderate opposition led by Jarba.
The assistance would go to what the White House has called "appropriately vetted" members of the Syrian opposition.
Although the US has provided some $2 billion in humanitarian aid, Obama has so far shied clear of providing heavy weapons, fearful they could fall into the hands of jihadists on both sides of the Syria-Iraq border.
Jarba called for "greater assistance" from the United States to Syria's mostly-Sunni rebels and for "greater efforts on the part of the US and regional powers to address the situation in Iraq."
Kerry was also to meet Saudi King Abdullah, who has long called for greater US military support for the Syrian rebels, whom the Sunni kingdom has long backed.
He has also been an outspoken critic of Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, whose Shiite-led government has seen insurgents sweep up a huge swathe of territory, including second city Mosul, since June 9.
Riyadh accuses Maliki of excluding Iraq's Sunni Arab minority and has played down Western concerns that the insurgents are led by jihadists.
Maliki has hit back, accusing both Saudi Arabia and its neighbour Qatar of supporting terrorism.