Iraq, Syria anti-ISIS campaign takes center stage at UN

UNITED NATIONS – World leaders at the United Nations turn their attention Wednesday, September 24, to the US-led campaign to root out Islamists in Iraq and Syria, and moves to outlaw foreign fighters.

US President Barack Obama, who is seeking to mobilize international support to defeat the jihadists, is among the first leaders to address the General Assembly debate kicking off at UN headquarters.

Obama then chairs a special UN Security Council meeting due to adopt a resolution on stemming the flow of foreign fighters to Iraq and Syria, only the second time the US president leads a session of the top world body.

The threat posed by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) group prompted the United States to launch airstrikes in Iraq last month and on Tuesday, September 23, the operation was expanded to Syria.

Branded a terrorist organization by the United States and the United Nations, ISIS controls large swaths of territory in Iraq and Syria, and has beheaded two US journalists and a British aid worker.

The US military operation in Syria was supported by Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Jordan, prompting Obama to proclaim that the campaign against the radical Sunni fighters was "not America's fight alone."

At the special session chaired by Obama, the Security Council is to approve a resolution demanding that countries adopt laws making it a serious crime to join the jihad in Iraq and Syria.

The US-drafted resolution calls on all countries to "prevent and suppress" recruitment and all forms of assistance to foreign fighters, and would make it illegal to collect funds or help organize their travel.

About 12,000 foreign fighters have traveled to Syria and Iraq from 74 countries, in the biggest such mobilization since the Afghan war of the 1980s, according to the London-based International Center for the Study of Radicalisation (ICSR).

The overwhelming majority of foreign fighters -- up to 75% -- are from the Middle East and Arab countries, with Saudi Arabia, Tunisia and Morocco topping the list.

More fighters from Europe

EU counter-terrorism chief Gilles de Kerchove told Agence France-Presse this week that the number of Europeans joining Islamist fighters in Syria and Iraq had jumped by a third to around 3,000 in a few months.

Between 20 and 30% have returned home. Some have resumed a normal life, others are suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. But others have become radicalized and dangerous, he warned.

US officials say that the resolution will boost cooperation on intelligence sharing, allowing countries to take action against jihadists on the move.

"What we are really trying to do is to up our game in terms of what is being shared," said a senior administration official.

Criticism of the US-led operation in Syria has been predictable, with Russia and Iran saying that the strikes should not have been carried out without the Syrian government's permission.

A question mark hangs over Iran's role in the anti-jihadist campaign with British Prime Minister David Cameron set to discuss the Western-led operation in a meeting with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on Wednesday.

It will be the first meeting between the countries' two leaders since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

Iran is supporting the Western-backed new Iraqi government in its battle against the ISIS group but remains an ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Also on the list of speakers on Wednesday is French President Francois Hollande, whose country opposed the 2003 Iraq war but sent Rafale fighters into action in Iraq last week.

France and Britain have said they will not join the US-led operation in Syria. –