Kerry suggests Syria rebels could fight in Iraq

U.S. President requested $500 million from congress for a Pentagon-run program that would expand efforts to arm Syria’s rebels

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U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry signaled on Friday that his country hopes to recruit moderate Syrian opposition fighters to fight against extremist militants group – the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) - in neighboring Iraq.

Earlier in the Syrian conflict, Obama’s administration had reluctantly decided to arm and train the moderate fighters battling against forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime.

"Obviously, in light of what has happened in Iraq, we have even more to talk about in terms of the moderate opposition in Syria, which has the ability to be a very important player in pushing back against ISIL's [ISIS’s] presence and to have them not just in Syria, but also in Iraq," Kerry said at a meeting with Syrian opposition leader Ahmad al-Jarba in Jeddah.

However, a senior State Department official traveling with Kerry clarified said that the secretary did not mean to suggest that Syria’s rebels would physically cross the border to fight in Iraq, according to the Associated Press.

On Thursday, the U.S. president requested $500 million from Congress for a Pentagon-run program that would expand efforts to arm Syria’s rebels, a move that shows the increased U.S. concern over conflicts in Syria and Iraq, which may be increasingly becoming an intertwined fight against extremist ISIS militants.

If Obama’s request is approved, the program would be the second front fighting against ISIS militants – whose activities are expanding from Syria and threatening to overwhelm Iraq.

White House spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said the military assistance "marks another step toward helping the Syrian people defend themselves against regime attacks, push back against the growing number of extremists like ISIL [ISIS] who find safe haven in the chaos, and take their future into their own hands by enhancing security and stability at local levels."

Al-Jarba thanked Obama’s administration for the request from congress, but said that his rebels want even more foreign aid to fight on two fronts.

"We still need greater assistance," al-Jarba said, speaking through a translator.

"We hope for greater cooperation with the U.S.," he said, adding that General Abdullah al-Bashir, head of the military arm of Syria’s opposition, "is ready to cooperate with the U.S. side."

Al-Jarba blamed Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s for policies the he said had divided the country, and called last month’s crisis in Iraq “very grave.”

"The borders between Iraq and Syria are practically open," al-Jarba told Kerry.

ISIS seized a key border crossing between Iraq and Syria in the last week.

Iraq is 60 percent Shiite, and the rest are nearly evenly split between Sunnis and Kurds. Iraq’s Sunnis, who enjoyed greater privileges during Saddam Hussein's reign, have decried al-Maliki's leadership and accused him of relegating minority groups from power.

Kerry visited a number of Middle Eastern countries last week in an attempt to broker a political deal with Iraq’s leader, to giver Sunnis more authority and power, in hopes of easing the sectarian tensions and quelling the dominantly sunni insurgents.

(With AP and Reuters)

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