Kerry pledges 'intense, sustained" support for Iraq
Secretary of State John Kerry said today that US support for Iraqi security forces will be "intense and sustained" to help them combat an Islamist insurgency that has swept through the country's north and west.
US Secretary of State John Kerry landed in Baghdad earlier today to press Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki to form a more inclusive government in response to a Sunni insurgency that has swept much of northern and western Iraq.
Kerry's visit came after Sunni militants took strongholds along Iraq's western border at the weekend, strengthening supply routes from Syria where they have exploited a three-year-old rebellion to capture swathes of territory.
US President Barack Obama agreed last week to send up to 300 special forces troops as advisers, but has held off from providing air strikes and ruled out redeploying ground troops.
Kerry said US President Barack Obama will not wait before he acts to provide advisers and support for Iraq's military. "The support will be intense and sustained and if Iraq's leaders take the necessary steps to bring the country together, it will be effective.
"It will allow Iraqi security forces to confront ISIL more effectively and in a way that respects Iraq's sovereignty while also respecting America's and the region's vital interests," he said, referring to the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant insurgents who have spearheaded the Sunni revolt.
"The key today was to get from each of the government leaders a clarity with respect to the road forward in terms of government formation," Kerry said. "Indeed, Prime Minister Maliki firmly and on multiple occasions affirmed his commitment to July 1 [to form the new government]."
Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei yesterday accused Washington of trying to regain control of the country it once occupied - a charge Kerry denied, saying the United States was committed to helping Iraq but wanted a more inclusive government.
Washington, which withdrew its troops from Iraq in 2011 after an eight year occupation that followed the 2003 invasion that toppled dictator Saddam Hussein, has been struggling to help Iraq contain a Sunni insurgency led by an al Qaeda offshoot, the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant.
Washington is worried that Maliki's Shi'ite-led government has worsened the insurgency by alienating moderate Sunnis who once fought al Qaeda but have now joined the ISIL revolt.
Kerry said yesterday the United States would not pick or choose who rules in Baghdad. He said, however, Washington had noted the dissatisfaction among Kurds, Sunnis and some Shi'ites with Maliki's leadership and emphasised that the United States wanted Iraqis to "find a leadership that was prepared to be inclusive and share power".
Iraqis are due to form a new government after an election in April in which Maliki's list won the most seats in parliament but would still require allies to win a majority.
US officials have conveyed that they are open to Maliki leaving. Senior Iraqi politicians, including at least one member of Maliki's own ruling list, said that this message has been delivered in diplomatic language to Iraqi leaders.
Recent meetings between Maliki and the Americans have been described as tense. According to a Western diplomat briefed on the conversations by someone attending the meetings, US diplomats have informed Maliki he should accept leaving if he cannot gather a majority in parliament for a third term. US officials have contested that such a message was delivered.