BAGHDAD/CAIRO – Iraq’s Shiite Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said Saturday that he had ordered his air force to halt strikes on civilian areas, following attacks by both Iraqi and U.S. jets in large areas of the country held by fighters from the Islamic State group.
The announcement, which comes as the United States tries to build regional support for deeper military action against the Islamic State group, may be aimed at winning Sunni Muslim support for al-Abadi’s new Shiite-led government as it battles the group, which controls a third of Iraqi territory.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has been touring the Middle East to coordinate a response to Islamic State’s growing power in eastern Syria and western Iraq. In Cairo on Saturday, he said Egypt has a critical role to play in countering the group’s hard-line Sunni Islamist ideology.
Al-Abadi said his order to protect civilians had been issued Thursday, a day after he held talks with Kerry in Baghdad.
Sunni Muslim tribal figures, who the U.S. hopes can be persuaded to turn against the jihadis, have demanded a freeze on military action on civilian areas as one of the conditions for their support of the Shiite-led government.
But residents in two Sunni areas of Iraq said there had been indiscriminate airstrikes during the past two days.
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