French President Francois Hollande goes on offensive with Iraq air strike decision

President Francois Hollande kicked off a rare news conference on Thursday with the dramatic announcement that France would conduct air strikes in Iraq, as he sought to wrest back the initiative after a catastrophic few weeks at home.

AFP| Last Updated: Sep 19, 2014, 02:12 AM IST

Paris: President Francois Hollande kicked off a rare news conference on Thursday with the dramatic announcement that France would conduct air strikes in Iraq, as he sought to wrest back the initiative after a catastrophic few weeks at home.

A party rebellion, an emergency cabinet reshuffle, record high unemployment, zero-growth and record low popularity: Hollande has endured punch after punch in recent weeks and his live public outing had been hotly anticipated.

But he chose to start the two-hour press briefing with an announcement that France would join the United States in providing what he called "aerial support" for the Iraqi army in fighting militants from the Islamic State group who have taken over nearly half of the violence-ridden country.

"I decided to respond to the request of the Iraqi authorities to offer aerial support," Hollande told reporters.

"As soon as we have identified targets, we will act... within a short time-frame."

France has already conducted reconnaissance flights over Iraq that started Monday and dispatched weapons to the Kurdish forces fighting the IS group.

Hollande himself visited Iraq late last week -- the most high-profile leader to do so since jihadists stormed across the country -- and Paris hosted an international conference on the crisis Monday.

But unlike the United States, Hollande was clear that France would not intervene in Syria, where IS militants also control swathes of territory.

He said: "We will not go further than that. There will be no ground troops and we will only intervene in Iraq."

The lightning offensive of the well-organised and well-funded Islamic State group has shocked the world, particularly as nationals from several European countries have travelled to Iraq and Syria to fight alongside jihadists.

Authorities in these countries -- which include France, Britain and Germany -- fear that those same nationals may return and launch attacks on home turf.