PARIS (Reuters) - Foreign ministers from several Western and Middle Eastern countries will meet on Thursday to discuss how to restore peace and stability to Mosul after Islamic State has been routed from its Iraqi stronghold.
As the battle for Mosul entered its second day on Tuesday, French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault, who will host the meeting in Paris, said: “We cannot wait. What happens after Mosul is liberated from Islamic State? We need an administration that establishes long-term stability.”
Iraqi and Kurdish forces said on Tuesday they had secured some 20 villages on the outskirts of Mosul, the biggest city under the control of Islamic State which grabbed vast stretches of Iraq and Syria in 2014.
Retaking Mosul would signal the defeat of the ultra-hardline Sunni jihadists in Iraq but could lead to further sectarian bloodletting, something the Baghdad government and its international backers are keen to prevent.
The ministers will discuss protecting civilians and providing aid and will also address how to tackle Islamic State’s Syrian stronghold, Raqqa, where dozens of French jihadists are based, Ayrault said.
“For Raqqa, a similar method will be needed to Mosul. It will take time and political will,” he said.
“We can’t let Islamic State reconstitute itself or strengthen to create an even more dangerous hub. Ignoring Raqqa would be a serious mistake.”
The United States, Britain, Saudi Arabia and Turkey are among the countries due to attend the meeting to be co-hosted by Iraq.
But Iran and Russia, which provide military backing to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who is opposed by Western and Gulf Arab states, have not been invited.
Ayrault said Russia had indicated Iraq was not its concern, whereas Iran, which has significant influence in Iraq, had not been invited to the Paris meeting due to tensions between Riyadh and Baghdad that needed to be eased first.
“For now we need to get consensus between everyone else, which isn’t simple. I’ve seen some quite virulent exchanges in meetings between Saudi Arabia and Iraq so we need to favour this dialogue first. We’re not ignoring Iran, but it has to be step by step.”
Thursday’s meeting will not focus on military aspects, that are due to be discussed at a similar meeting next week, also in Paris.
Editing by Mathieu Rosemain and Robin Pomeroy