• Sunday, 21 April 2024

US Pledges $150 Million in Aid for Post-ISIL Areas in Syria and Iraq

US Pledges $150 Million in Aid for Post-ISIL Areas in Syria and Iraq

In a ministerial conference hosted by Saudi Arabia aimed at combatting the Islamic State extremist group, Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced on Thursday that the United States would provide nearly $150 million in aid for areas in Syria and Iraq that have been liberated from the terrorist organization.

The conference brought together the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS, comprising over 80 countries, which continues to coordinate efforts against the group that, while no longer controlling any territory, still poses a threat through its affiliates in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East.

Secretary Blinken emphasized the importance of addressing the root causes that enable groups like ISIS to thrive, citing poor security, humanitarian conditions, and a lack of economic opportunity as factors contributing to desperation and recruitment. He stressed the need for a sustained commitment to stabilization goals in order to prevent the resurgence of extremist ideologies.

Although Blinken did not provide specific details, it is expected that the US aid to Syria will be channeled through Kurdish allies, the United Nations, or international aid groups. Sanctions on President Bashar Assad's government, imposed by the US and other Western countries, restrict direct assistance to his regime.

During his visit to Saudi Arabia, Blinken co-hosted the conference and held meetings with senior Saudi officials, including Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. This visit comes as the United States reassesses its longstanding alliance with Saudi Arabia, as the kingdom aims to transform itself into a global player with reduced dependence on Washington.

Under the leadership of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Saudi Arabia has undertaken extensive economic and social reforms, such as diversifying its economy, promoting tourism and investment, and relaxing conservative religious policies. The kingdom has also pursued diplomatic initiatives to resolve regional conflicts, including the war in Yemen and the crisis with Qatar. Additionally, Saudi Arabia has engaged with countries previously viewed as adversaries, such as Russia and Venezuela, as part of its broader foreign policy objectives.

Critics of Saudi Arabia point to concerns over human rights, citing a crackdown on dissent and the killing of Saudi dissident Jamal Khashoggi. Secretary Blinken raised human rights concerns during his discussions with Saudi and Arab officials, though it remains unclear if any concrete actions were agreed upon.

President Joe Biden had initially promised to treat Saudi Arabia as a "pariah" following the Khashoggi killing but faced challenges due to rising oil prices. Last year, he ultimately met with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, drawing attention for their fist bump greeting.

The United States' $150 million aid commitment forms part of a broader funding package totaling over $600 million to support stabilization efforts in Syria and Iraq. By providing assistance to these areas, the US aims to contribute to their recovery and prevent the reemergence of extremist groups like ISIS.