King Abdullah likens fight against IS to a third World War

AMMAN — In his first media interview since Jordan declared a “relentless” war against the Islamic State, King Abdullah II characterised the militants as “outlaws of Islam”, comparing the ongoing battle to a third World War that would bring “Muslims, Christians and other religions together in a generational fight”.

King Abdullah has vowed to avenge the immolation of pilot Muath Al Kasaesbeh early last month after the latter was captured by the Islamic State in December when his aircraft crashed during a mission.

Jordan has launched at least 56 air strikes against Islamic State group weapons depots, training centres and military barracks, killing at least 55 militants, including a senior commander.

In an interview with CNN on Sunday, King Abdullah reiterated his commitment to battle the Islamic State. “These are outlaws, in a way, of Islam, the minute they set up this irresponsible caliphate to try to expand their dominion over Muslims,” he said.

During the interview, the King repeatedly referred to the Islamic State as Daesh, an acronym for al-Dawla al-Islamiya al-Iraq al-Sham. Many opponents of the group, especially those in the Arab world, refer to the militants as Daesh — a derogatory term — because to them, the term Islamic State suggests that the terror group is a legitimate state.

United States President Barack Obama has said he does not want to refer to Islamic State members as Islamic extremists because their actions are not Islamic.

“I think he is right,” King Abdullah told CNN. “This is something that has to be understood on a much larger platform. The Islamic State is looking for legitimacy (that) they have inside of Islam.

“I’m a Muslim. These people (the Islamic State members) … are on the fringe of Islam,” he said.

Questions have been asked about whether Jordan’s increased involvement in the fight against the militant group will be a game changer.

But King Abdullah said the effects would not be seen overnight. “There are continued operations going on in Syria. We are coordinating with our friends in Iraq.”

He said there was a long-term approach in place to fight the Islamic State, but did not give any more details.

The King also highlighted that the fight against the militants was like a third World War. The battle against the Islamic State is as much Jordan’s war as it is of any other country in the US-led coalition, he said. “This brings Muslims, Christians, other religions together in this generational fight,” said King Abdullah.

The battle against the Islamic State was also waging within Islam. “Everybody comes together against these outlaws,” he said. The Islamic State cannot argue that Jordan and other Muslim nations should not attack the group because its members are fellow Muslims, said the King.

The militants try to make themselves look like victims, he said. “What about the hundreds, if not thousands, of Muslims they have killed in Syria and Iraq over the past year and a half?”

Jordan has a responsibility to reach out to eastern Syria and western Iraq, where people have been executed in large numbers by the Islamic State, said King Abdullah.

On what possible role Syrian President Bashar Al Assad could play in combating the Islamic State, King Abdullah pointed out that the history of dealing with the Assad regime and the history of dealing with the Islamic State were two separate things. “What has taken prominence at the moment is the Islamic State,” he said.

But the King added that whether the two issues could be dealt with at the same time was something that the international community would have to decide.

At the height of the Arab Awakening protests in the Middle East in 2011, large-scale protests erupted in Syria against Mr Assad. The regime violently cracked down on demonstrators, leading to chaos in the country that spilled into surrounding nations. Many in the international community felt that Mr Assad should leave the scene. Within this context, the Islamic State entered the fray as an Al Qaeda splinter group that joined the rebellion to bring down Mr Assad. But it embarked on a massive territory grab last June, carving out a self-declared caliphate from Syrian and Iraqi territory as American-trained Iraqi forces capitulated.

The brutal killing of Al Kasaesbeh has triggered a wave of nationalist fervour bolstering King Abdullah’s case for a military campaign against the Islamic State.

Jordan is a key member of the military alliance that has been bombing Islamic State targets in Syria for more than five months.

In Washington, leading members of Congress have called for increased US military assistance to the kingdom. Currently, the US is providing Jordan with US$1 billion (S$1.63 billion) annually in economic and military assistance. AGENCIES

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