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The Uncertain Nature Of Obama's Arab Coalition


This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Linda Wertheimer. As the U.S. continues to launch air strikes against the so-called Islamic State, or ISIS, the Coalition of Nations providing varying levels of support has grown. A group of Arab countries has now joined the fight. Saudi Arabia, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates participated in air strikes in Syria this past week. Here to talk about the strength of this Arab coalition is Abderrahim Foukara, Washington bureau chief for Al Jazeera. And he joins us from New York. Welcome to the program.

ABDERRAHIM FOUKARA: Good to be with you, Linda.

WERTHEIMER: So what do you think about the Sunni-Arab majority countries joining the U.S.-led fight in Syria? Why have they done that?

FOUKARA: Well, on their side because countries like Saudi Arabia feel threatened by the advance of ISIS. Obviously, they control big chunks of land in both Iraq and in Syria. On the part of the United States, they obviously lend some credibility to the effort to defeat ISIS as the U.S. says because they are - all these countries are Sunni countries. And the U.S. is worried about giving the impression that this is a campaign on ISIS to favor the Shia in both Iraq and elsewhere in the region.

WERTHEIMER: But how strong do you think an Arab coalition can be when you have major countries like Iran and Hezbollah leaders in Lebanon publicly opposing the air strikes?

FOUKARA: Well, there's quite a bit of skepticism about the ability of air strikes to defeat ISIS, not just in Iran, but across the region. But obviously, each one of these countries that you mentioned, and others, have a stake in at least being perceived to be waging this war along the United States on ISIS. The threat that many Sunnis inside of Iraq have felt since the invasion of 2003 - feel marginalized. And for countries such as Saudi Arabia or the United Arab Emirates, they see it as being in their interest regionally to be seen to be extending a hand to Sunnis in Iraq and elsewhere in the region. And this is a very good way for them to be seen to be doing that.

WERTHEIMER: But this business of being seen to be doing something is one thing and actually participating in strategic strikes - could you very quickly tell me - do think they've been helpful?

FOUKARA: They have been helpful militarily. They've been flying sorties together with the Americans according to American reports. But the most significant contribution is they're giving ideological cover to this campaign against ISIS so that it's not seen as an effort to favor the Shia, not just in Iraq, but also in Syria and elsewhere in the region.

WERTHEIMER: Mr. Foukara is the Washington bureau chief for Al Jazeera. Thank you very much.

FOUKARA: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.