Q&A: Jordan, already attacking IS in Syria, joins Iraq fight
BAGHDAD (AP) The horrific slaying of a Jordanian fighter pilot by the Islamic State group has prompted Jordan to expand its fight against the Sunni militant group with military operations in IS-held parts of Iraq.
WHAT HAS JORDAN CONTRIBUTED TO THE FIGHT?
Diplomacy and air power. Like the Sunni sheikhdoms in the Persian Gulf, Jordan until recently restricted its involvement in the fight against the Islamic State group to airstrikes in Syria. But Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh said Jordan is now also attacking targets in Iraq.
Diplomatically, Jordan has also taken a hands-on role in rallying Sunni factions in Iraq against the extremists. In July, weeks after the militants seized Iraq's second-largest city of Mosul, Jordan hosted 150 opposition figures from Sunni tribes, religious figures, and former Baathists to the Jordanian capital, Amman, to discuss the escalating crisis.
Jordan also has delivered humanitarian aid to civilians in militant-occupied areas in Iraq, most recently in November, when it airlifted aid and other unspecified supplies to an airbase in Iraq's Anbar province.
WHAT MORE CAN JORDAN DO?
Plenty. Jordan could greatly influence Iraq's Sunni Arab tribes to support military efforts against the Islamic State group, particularly the Iraqi government's plans to create a Sunni-led National Guard. Jordan believes it can host future conferences of Iraq's Sunni factional leaders in safety.
The Royal Jordanian Air Force possesses significant firepower, and only a fraction of it is believed to be involved in targeting IS positions in Syria.
Jordan also could beef up security on the ground along its border with Iraq's Anbar province, where militants have continued to make gains despite the aerial campaign.
WHAT IS JORDAN'S MILITARY STRENGTH?
Good by regional standards. The kingdom's military has 110,700 members including 14,000 elite members of special forces units and more than 650 aircraft. The U.S. has provided F-16 fighter-bombers and medium range air-to-air missiles. Jordanian pilot Muath Al-Kaseasbeh was flying an F-16 when it crashed and he was taken hostage by the militant group in December.
Lawmakers in Washington have called for increased U.S. military assistance to the kingdom, one of America's closest Arab allies. The U.S. already provides Jordan with $1 billion annually in economic and military aid.
WOULD IRAQ WELCOME JORDANIAN INTERVENTION?
Probably no, at least not publicly. The Iraqi government has been reluctant to seek direct involvement in its crisis by Arab states, particularly Sunnis.
Iraq long has served as a political and ideological battlefield for regional powerhouses Iran and Saudi Arabia to assert their dominance. Iran represents Shiite interests, Saudi Arabia the Sunnis. Analysts say their tug-of-war for Iraqi influence has increased sectarian tensions.
Iran's influence over Iraq's Shiite-dominated government has reached unprecedented levels following Islamic State's shock rise to power in the north. Non-Arab Iran took effective charge of Iraq's defense against the Sunni radical group and sent reinforcements to bolster Iraqi forces on the ground.
Jordan, a predominantly Sunni country, is regarded as one of Saudi Arabia's closest allies. Therefore any military intervention in Iraq might be seen as an aggressive Saudi-sponsored move to counter Iran's grip on the country.
IS JORDAN ITSELF VULNERABLE TO ISLAMIC STATE?
Yes. Given it borders both Syria and Iraq, Jordan is vulnerable to Islamic State attacks and the kingdom takes it extremely seriously.
In December, Jordan deployed troops and armored vehicles along its border with Syria after what it called an attempted infiltration by IS militants. Jordan did the same on its border with Iraq in July as IS militants threatened to cross that part of its frontier.
But it shows no sign of moderating its security stance in hopes of avoiding attack. On Wednesday, hours after horrific video circulated worldwide showing the Jordanian pilot's death by immolation, kingdom executed two of its al-Qaida convicts on death row. Members of the group formerly known as al-Qaida in Iraq have largely joined IS.
One of those hanged was involved in the biggest al-Qaida attack on Jordan, the 2005 suicide bombings of three Amman hotels that killed 57 people, mostly Jordanians.