OTTAWA (Reuters) - The Iraqi army must do more to show it can fight Islamic State militants who have taken over a third of the country, French President Francois Hollande said on Monday.
The Iraqi army, riven by sectarian divisions between Sunni and Shi’ite Muslims, put up little resistance earlier this year as the Islamic State fighters mounted a major offensive.
Hollande pointed to the peshmerga fighters from Iraq’s northern Kurd region, who have had recent success against the Islamic State and who on Monday helped bombard Islamic State positions in the northern Syrian town of Kobani.
Western nations have been training and equipping the peshmerga for months.
Hollande made his remarks at a news conference in Ottawa, and France, like Canada, is part of the U.S.-led campaign of air strikes against Islamic State fighters in Iraq that Hollande said is inflicting losses and boosting morale.
“These strikes won’t be enough. They have to be accompanied by movements on the ground and in Iraq it is up to the Iraq army and the Iraqi Kurd peshmerga to ensure the land can be taken back,” Hollande said.
“This is what the Iraqi peshmerga are doing and what the Iraqi armed forces aren’t doing yet. We have encouraged them - as we have asked the Iraqi government - to make the broadest gathering (of forces) possible so this army can be respected enough by all communities that it is effective.”
The U.S. Army chief of staff said in September that Baghdad would need training to rebuild ground forces capable of rooting out Islamic State fighters.
France was the first country to join the U.S.-led air strikes in September and stepped up the pace of the bombing last month. Canadian fighter jets made their first combat strike since joining the campaign on Sunday.
Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper said that while the aerial campaign was having considerable effect against the Islamic State incursion, “we all recognize that it has to ultimately be pushed back on the ground.”
He added: “Part of that is a military effort ... part of it is also a political settlement in Baghdad that allows those parts of the country that are presently occupied by (Islamic State) to see themselves as part of the governance and part of the national life of the country,” he told the news conference.
Hollande is on a three-day official visit to Canada.
Reporting by David Ljunggren; Editing by Peter Galloway