On Wednesday, French Prime Minister Manuel Valls addressed the Assemblée Nationale regarding France’s actions against ISIL (“Daech” in French). Valls called ISIL a “double lie”– because “there’s nothing of a state, about it, and it in no way represents Islam”—and a “triple threat: to Iraq, to the world and to France.” Valls made several key points in his speech:
1. The scope of France’s actions: For now, France’s participation in military strikes will be limited to actions in Iraq and will not involve ground troops. Valls noted the United States strikes in Syria, but explained, “For our part, we’ve chosen to concentrate on Iraq and continue to support the moderate opposition to Bashar al-Assad’s regime.” Today French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius suggested that France’s policy regarding strikes in Syria could evolve over time, but the criteria for such a change are not clear.
2. France’s legal justification for action against ISIL: Valls asserted that France’s strikes in Iraq are “legitimate and in accordance with international law.” His cited Iraq’s request for assistance, and argued “we’re acting in accordance with the United Nations Charter, because any state has the sovereign right to ask another to lend it assistance.” In considering expansion of strikes into Syria, it is not clear that France would be willing to rely on the same rationale: Valls specifically noted that “Bashar al-Assad absolutely cannot be a partner in the fight against” ISIL.
3. Relationship between ISIL and Al Qaeda: Valls did not take a clear position on the relationship, whether past or present, between Al Qaeda and ISIL. He instead referred to ISIL members as “a second generation of jihadists after that of al-Qaeda.”
4. Threats from French passport-holders fighting for ISIL: Valls went out of his way to emphasize the distinction between Islam (“France’s second-largest religion and an asset to our country”) and “jihadism” (“a violent, depraved message which is contrary to the universal values of Islam”), while also calling the threat from Syria-trained French fighters an “unprecedented challenge.” He noted that 580 French nationals or residents have fought in Syria/Iraq, and 189 “jihadists have returned to France from Syria.” The return of radicalized nationals has also raised concerns for the United States and the European Union, among others.
For more details, see the full text below (in English) or the video of the speech (in French).
PRIME MINISTER MANUEL VALLS – A mortal danger is looming over the Middle East. The stability of the region and, beyond that, the security of the world are threatened by the terrorist group Daesh [ISIL].
France is a great power. It shoulders its responsibilities, because it is a permanent member of the Security Council, because Europe’s security is under threat and because our national security is at stake, as it has never been in recent years. So the President has decided to use force in Iraq, at the express request of the Baghdad authorities. In accordance with Article 35 of our constitution, when the armed forces are engaged abroad the government informs Parliament as soon as possible. I wrote to the President of your Assembly as soon as the first strikes were carried out last Friday, 19 September. This morning I met Jean-Yves Le Drian – who is currently speaking in the Senate –, Bernard Cazeneuve, Jean-Marie Le Guen, the Chief of Defence Staff, the directors of the intelligence services, the presidents of the two assemblies, the heads of the parliamentary groups and the chairmen of the Defence and Foreign Affairs Committees.
I want to express, through Parliament, the nation’s full support for the soldiers engaged in Operation Chammal. The time has come, once again, to unite behind the French armed forces, come together and show unity – I have no doubt this will be the case. Thanks in particular to the often very risky work of journalists, the crimes of the Daesh group are known to everyone. Acts of barbarity, large-scale massacres, hostage executions: there are no limits to the horrors committed by these terrorists, horrors which they spread throughout the world via the Internet. Daesh is the acronym of terror, of a group that seeks to establish a caliphate in the heart of the Middle East, a group that offers no choice but forced conversion or death.
To combat Daesh is to combat an organization whose designation “Islamic State” is a double lie: there’s nothing of a state about it, and it in no way represents Islam. It’s a group of murderers for whom human life has no value. The group, as Islam’s highest authorities have said, is an insult to that religion, and it’s a triple threat: to Iraq, to the world and to France.
Since the fall of Mosul in June, Daesh has been controlling nearly a third of Iraqi territory. It controls points of communication and strategic roads. It’s accumulated huge wealth, enabling it to recruit and pay proxies from all corners of the globe, [including] Europe and France. Its war chest has also enabled it to build a real army: nearly 500 light armoured vehicles, some 50 tanks and several dozen anti-tank missiles. Its troops, which are extremely mobile, could be strengthened through the acquisition of new materiel.
Today, Iraq’s stability is under threat; its very existence is in danger. In Iraq, a new government has been established. It’s now been formed, with a few priorities: to combat that domestic enemy and try to reconcile – and it’s essential – the Iraqi communities: Sunnis, Shias and Kurds. It must also protect minorities: Iraq’s Christians and the Yazidis. Tensions between the different communities that make up Iraq are of course a source of concern, and has been for a long time. The Iraqi political system must find an equilibrium, just as, in the long term, it must build relations of trust with its neighbours, including Iran.
The Iraqi government is calling on us for help; it has asked for France’s military support. It’s our duty to heed it. Helping Iraq and preventing its disintegration also means preventing the large-scale destabilization of the region. So we’re acting in accordance with the United Nations Charter, because any state has the sovereign right to ask another to lend it assistance.
Daesh was born in the midst of Syria’s chaos. It has thrived with the complicity of the Damascus regime and been fuelled by the international community’s inaction. Today it is thought to have nearly 30,000 fighters. But Daesh won’t stop in Iraq. Beyond that country, its members – who make up a second generation of jihadists after that of al-Qaeda – are a threat to the whole of the [Middle] East. They control more than a quarter of Syria’s territory. They’re seeking to destabilize Lebanon. That’s the real plan of that international criminal network: to create a terrorist haven stretching from the shores of the Mediterranean to those of the Persian Gulf.
But Daesh is also a threat to Europe and France. I’ve emphasized the risk posed by networks which lead French individuals, or individuals living in France, to enlist and go to fight over there. I’ve already given you the figures: they’re worrying. That’s also why we must act. In those destabilized regions, terrorist networks find the means to develop and strike against Western countries.
We’re all thinking, right now, about the fate of our compatriot kidnapped in Algeria. Our thoughts are with Hervé-Pierre Gourdel, his family and friends. Through you, I want to tell the French people that we won’t let ourselves be intimidated. By attacking our compatriot, the jihadists are attacking us, each one of us. If we show ourselves to be weak in the face of this threat, we’ll be encouraging those cowards to continue their deadly work. We won’t fail and we won’t falter. In the face of threats, in the face of blackmail, in the face of terror, France doesn’t give in, and that’s the message we must today, all together, send to the world. It’s not our intervention that is exposing us to terrorism. That threat is there, it’s existed for a long time, and that’s why we’re acting and intervening. Helping Iraq means protecting France and acting for our national security.
For several months, France has been taking the initiative, because our country has always had a presence in the Middle East and because we have responsibilities and duties towards that region. We understand its complexity. We’re examining the situation precisely, in detail, with the historical depth of an old nation, avoiding the simplistic attitudes and distortions that have done so much harm to that very region for several years. At the beginning of August, when Iraq’s territorial integrity was put at risk, when minorities were threatened and the humanitarian situation was deteriorating, France decided to commit itself, first of all through humanitarian assistance and then by supplying weapons and training fighters.
It’s now our fighter planes that are flying over Iraqi territory, for reconnaissance missions and, since last Friday, strikes. The air operations under way are being conducted in full agreement with the Iraqi armed forces and in coordination with our allies, in particular the United States and its Arab partners. Our aim is clear. It’s been given careful consideration. It’s been announced by the President.
Let me remind you of that aim: we’re responding to the Iraqi authorities’ request for support to weaken the terrorist organization Daesh, because the Iraqi security forces and Kurdish fighters must be helped to restore Iraq’s sovereignty.
This military engagement takes the form of air operations over Iraqi territory. However, we won’t commit French troops on the ground. We’ll remain involved for as long as necessary, until the Iraqi army has regained the upper hand over Daesh.
We’re not acting alone. France’s action is part of a political and military coalition. That coalition was formed in Paris, at the Conference on Peace and Security in Iraq, on the President’s initiative, on 15 September 2014.
I’ll move on to Syria, where Bashar al-Assad’s regime continues to spread the chaos which is to the terrorists’ advantage. The President gave a reminder at last Thursday’s press conference that France was ready to shoulder its responsibilities a year ago, when evidence had been gathered of Assad’s use of chemical weapons against his own people. Things most probably wouldn’t have come to this in Syria if the international community had intervened then.
The United States, with the help of the main countries in the region, has decided to conduct operations against Daesh’s strongholds on Syrian territory.
For our part, we’ve chosen to concentrate on Iraq and continue to support the moderate opposition to Bashar al-Assad’s regime. In a particularly difficult context, those opposition forces are also resolutely combating the terrorists. We’re determined, along with our partners, to lend them increased civilian and military support. Our efforts complement the military action the Americans are taking.
But we’ve already said, and I repeat to you, that Bashar al-Assad absolutely cannot be a partner in the fight against Daesh.
The military action is in response to an emergency. The struggle is a long-term struggle against fanaticism – that deathly ideology which distorts and corrupts the message of Islam. That struggle isn’t the West against the Middle East. That struggle isn’t a crusade. And it’s also up to the Arab countries to act, together. Furthermore, they’re engaged in the operations.
But without long-term support, without a diplomatic and above all a political response to the causes of the threat, this military action risks being in vain. What the region is experiencing today demonstrates this, confirming the position strongly upheld by France in 2003 through the voice of Jacques Chirac.
So the international conference in Paris was an important step. In this regard, I want to pay tribute to the work of the Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Development, Laurent Fabius, who so effectively organized that meeting.
It enabled us to determine the broad lines of a common strategy and show the mobilization of 29 countries and international organizations in support of the new Iraqi authorities, engaged in the reconstruction of the Iraqi state and the country’s reconciliation – it can’t be otherwise – around an inclusive government.
The participants agreed to combat radicalization, improve border controls, staunch the flow of foreign fighters and cut off all – and I mean all – the sources of Daesh’s funding.
Indeed, a comprehensive strategy is necessary to combat this terrorism. Military action is only one of the aspects. In addition to military engagement, the humanitarian aid efforts embarked on must be continued. The partners at the conference pledged to do this. France is at the forefront. We’ve already delivered 87 tonnes of aid; we’ll continue that assistance, including to minorities: I’m thinking in particular of the Christians, who have been hunted down and massacred for years.
In order to stabilize the region, the fate of displaced people must also be the focus of international mobilization. That’s true for Iraq, Jordan and Lebanon, that friendly country which deserves our solidarity and support. In the face of the emergency, we’re taking in refugees who have links to France. So on Saturday, the Foreign Minister once again welcomed nearly 150 Iraqi refugees to Roissy airport.
France is shouldering its responsibilities again by taking action to defend its security, its interests and its values.
I say “again” because our armed forces are still deployed in the Sahel-Saharan Africa, in Mali, Chad and Niger, to fight terrorism under Operation Barkhane. Likewise, our soldiers are engaged in the Central African Republic to help stabilize that country. Our forces are also engaged in Lebanon, where they are helping make the south of the country secure and supporting the Lebanese armed forces.
I want to pay tribute to the action of Jean-Yves Le Drian, Minister of Defence, in this respect.
As I said yesterday during my visit to Germany: France acts when its security is at stake, but it also acts for Europe. Nevertheless, Europe can’t hand its security over to one of its member states alone, even France. This is why we’re not giving up on our desire to see progress on a genuine Defence Europe.
All these military commitments confirm the need to have adequate resources for our national defence and security. The President has chosen to maintain defence spending over the next few years, despite a particularly difficult budget situation.
This choice was reflected in the 2014-2019 estimates act, which you adopted last year.
Indeed, the situation in Iraq and the Middle East has major consequences for our security at home. It’s our chief cause for concern, because although we have to act outside our borders, we also have to fight terrorism on our soil, because radicalized groups are a major threat in our country.
As I’ve often had occasion to say in this assembly, previously as Interior Minister and today as Prime Minister, this is a completely new threat. Faced with this threat, great sang-froid must be shown. Every word counts, every stance counts and is going to count, especially in the coming days.
And I want to say this in no uncertain terms to our nation’s elected representatives: France is making a clear distinction between Islam, which is France’s second-largest religion and an asset to our country, and Islamism, whose terrorist extension, jihadism, is merely a violent, depraved message which is contrary to the universal values of Islam. Saying this to you here is also a way of convincing our fellow citizens.
Yes, France must face up to an unprecedented challenge. As I’ve already said to you here, nearly 1,000 French nationals and [foreign] residents are today involved in Syrian-Iraqi networks. There were 30 two years ago; half the number [i.e. 500] at the start of this year. Five hundred and eighty of them are fighting or have fought over there. Thirty-six have died there. One hundred and eighty nine jihadists have returned from Syria. Never has our country had to confront such a challenge, such a threat, such a danger in terms of terrorism. This isn’t about frightening people: it’s about telling our compatriots the truth about a phenomenon which is rampant not just in France but in many countries of Europe. Beyond Europe, this threat is hanging over North Africa and major countries such as America, Australia and Indonesia.
Beyond these figures, it’s the wide-ranging profiles of these people which should give us cause for concern: minors, women, converts, individuals unknown to the [intelligence] services until now. They come from the widest range of places: from our neighbourhoods, our territories, including rural areas and overseas France. These same, very wide-ranging profiles are found in many European countries. Violent jihadism holds a morbid fascination for young people who have lost their bearings, leading them to radicalization and direct action. Nemmouche, the murderer in the Jewish Museum in Brussels – his background is a fearsome example of this.
So we must be implacable in the battle against terrorism. This is why, in December 2012, following on from existing measures, or ones announced by the previous government in the wake of the murders committed by Merah, a first anti-terrorist law stepped up the battle against cyber-jihadism and made it easier to crack down on incitement to hatred and terrorist violence online. It also made provision for possible criminal penalties for French terrorists and [foreign] residents who have committed all their acts abroad.
This work goes on and is being added to, with the plan to prevent radicalization, which Bernard Cazeneuve put forward in April 2014, and the bill passed virtually unanimously on 18 September by your assembly, which is now being examined by the Senate.
You know its four main objectives: to prevent and bar departures, more effectively fight the spread of terrorist propaganda – especially on the Internet –, take into consideration the new methods of operating used by terrorists, especially those acting alone, and finally, give the courts and police services investigative resources adapted to the threat and its development.
In addition to these measures, the government is engaged in an initiative designed to fight indoctrination and radicalization and support the – sadly, many – families up against these phenomena.
At this stage, I want – in order to show the extent of the threat – to remind you that, in the battle against terrorist networks leading to Syria, 114 individuals have been taken in for questioning, 78 have been charged and 53 have been jailed over the past few months.
Fighters, including minors, have been prevented from leaving. And, above all, several planned attacks on our territory have been thwarted, or have failed. Let’s remember the one targeting a kosher grocery in Sarcelles on 19 September 2012.
As you know, three alleged jihadists arrived on our soil from Turkey yesterday. They have now been handed over to the police and the courts.
The Interior Minister has spoken about this and will have an opportunity to come back to it. It didn’t go as planned.
Every time we have to confront this kind of danger, we must all – whether as members of the majority or the opposition – pay a glowing tribute to all our domestic and external services, who act with courage and determination to protect our compatriots.
The decision taken by the President to commit the armed forces in Iraq, at the request of the Iraqi authorities, is based on a threefold objective.
One of security, because we’re facing a direct, immediate and – I emphasize this – exceptionally serious threat.
One of stability, because Daesh is endangering the survival and unity of the Iraqi state, in a strategic region.
One of credibility, because when a friendly country calls on us for help, when people are massacred, when our partners in the region are threatened, when an incredibly violent terrorist group attacks everything we believe in, France – yes, France – does not look away.
This threefold objective can only fall within the framework of a political solution, of which this military operation is but one aspect. So it’s based on a long-term strategy.
France’s action is necessary. The President has decided this. It is legitimate and in accordance with international law. It will rely on our armed forces’ professionalism and sense of duty. It must be able to rely on the support of the whole nation and so, today, I’d like to be able to count on the support of the nation’s elected representatives. (…).