Egypt key to fighting IS – Kerry

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry (L) meets with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi at the presidential palace in Cairo September 13, 2014.Egypt’s President Sisi (right) seen here meeting John Kerry has already agreed to support the US coalition

Egypt has a key role to play in countering Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria, US Secretary of State John Kerry said on a visit to Cairo.

He met Arab League chief Nabil al-Arabi and Egypt’s President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi as part of his campaign to form a broad coalition to tackle IS militants.

He has already enlisted the support of 10 Arab states so far but he has ruled out Iran joining the US-led coalition.

On Friday, the CIA said IS has as many as 30,000 fighters in Syria and Iraq.

IS controls large parts of both countries and its fighters have become notorious for their brutality, but in recent weeks they have been targeted by US air strikes.

On Wednesday, President Barack Obama unveiled plans for an expansion of the US campaign against IS.

Members of a Shia militia who have vowed to protect Baghdad from Islamic State militants - 12 September 2014Shia militias have joined forces with the Iraqi army and Kurdish fighters to try to fight back against IS

The 10 Arab countries to have signed up to the coalition are: Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates.

Sinai jihadists

Egypt is “on the frontline of the fight against terrorism, particularly when it comes to fighting extremist groups in Sinai,” Mr Kerry said, after talks with Mr Arabi and President Sisi in the latest leg of his Middle East tour.

He acknowledged Egypt’s reputation as “an intellectual and cultural capital of the Muslim world,” saying it had a “critical role to play in publicly renouncing the ideology that IS disseminates”.

Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shukri, speaking at the same news conference, said that ties existed between IS and other militant groups operating in the region, who must also be dealt with.

He had earlier signalled a desire for the campaign against IS to be broadened to militants active in the Sinai who have expressed support for IS, says the BBC’s Barbara Plett-Usher in Cairo.

Foreign fighters cross through the Sinai en route to Syria, with some offering expertise and training to local militants there, a senior state department official has said.

But US officials say they need to keep the focus on IS as the biggest danger because it crosses borders and would expand if not stopped, our correspondent adds.

Mr Kerry says military and intelligence experts will spend the coming days working out how each state will contribute.

But speaking in Turkey on Friday, he said it would be “inappropriate” for Iran to join the group because of its “engagement in Syria and elsewhere”.

John Kerry

John Kerry: “We don’t have any plans to cooperate with Iran [against IS]”

Iran has backed the government of President Bashar al-Assad in Syria, while the US and several European and Gulf countries have supported the rebel factions fighting to overthrow him.

Mr Kerry held talks with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu on Friday in an effort to secure more co-operation from the Turkish government in the fight against IS.

Turkey has refused to allow the use of its air bases to launch attacks on the jihadist group.

The BBC’s Jim Muir in Irbil says one reason is that Turkey fears for the lives of nearly 50 Turkish hostages held by the militants, including staff from the consulate in Mosul.

Separately on Saturday, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said he had ordered the Iraqi air force to stop air strikes on civilian areas under IS control in order to protect civilians.

In recent months IS has expanded from its stronghold in eastern Syria and seized control of more towns, cities, army bases and weaponry in Iraq.

The US has already carried out more than 150 air strikes in northern Iraq. It has also sent hundreds of military advisers to assist Iraqi government and Kurdish forces, but has ruled out sending ground troops.

Graphic of US air strikes on Iraq and Islamic State attacks