Iraq: Kerry vows US support in ‘critical moment’

John Kerry meets with Iraqi prime minister Nouri al-Maliki. Picture: AP
John Kerry meets with Iraqi prime minister Nouri al-Maliki. Picture: AP
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THE US secretary of state John Kerry pledged “intense and sustained support” for Iraq after meeting key politicians in Baghdad.

Mr Kerry said the attacks by Sunni militants were a threat to Iraq’s existence and that the coming days and weeks were crucial to the nation’s survival.

The fate of Iraq may be decided over the next week and largely depends on whether its leaders keep their commitment to meet looming deadlines to seat a new government before a Sunni insurgency sweeps away hopes of lasting peace said the top diplomat.

At a press conference in Baghdad, the US secretary of state said: “This is a critical moment for Iraq’s future, It is a moment of decision for Iraq’s leaders and it’s a moment of great urgency.”

It was a dire message from John Kerry to leaders of Iraq’s bitterly divided Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish political coalitions who have seen three decades of dictatorship, sanctions and wars. And it sought to hold the officials to a government transition that the US believes will stave off the threat of a new civil war by giving more power to Iraq’s minorities. Mr Kerry said each of the officials he met with – including Shiite PM Nouri al-Maliki – committed to seat a new parliament by 1 July as the constitution requires.

He said: “The very future of Iraq depends on choices that will be made in the next days and weeks, and the future of Iraq depends primarily on the ability of Iraq’s leaders to come together and take a stand united against Isis,” Mr Kerry said, referring to the insurgency known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isis).

“Not next week, not next month, but now.” He also said no country – including the US – should try to pick a new leadership for Iraq. Mr al-Maliki is facing growing calls for his resignation as disgruntled Sunnis say they do not believe he will give them a greater voice in the government.

After suffering together through more than eight years of war – which killed nearly 4,500 American troops and more than 100,000 Iraqis – Washington and Baghdad are trying to shelve mutual wariness to curb the very real prospect of the nation falling into a fresh bout of sectarian strife.

Frustrated Sunnis are increasingly joining Isis, and the Iraqi parliament speaker Osama al-Nujaifi, one of Iraq’s top-ranking Sunnis, told Mr Kerry the insurgents posed “a threat to the entire world”.

Mr al-Nujaifi is from Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city which was overrun earlier this month by militants.

Mr al-Nujaifi said the insurgents had to be confronted “through direct military operations and political reforms so that we can inject a new hope into our own people so that they can support the political process and the unity of Iraq”.

Iraqi officials said Mr al-Maliki had urged the US to target militant positions in Iraq and neighbouring Syria, citing training camps and convoys, with air strikes. The officials said Mr Kerry responded by saying a great deal of care and caution must be taken before attacks are launched to avoid civilian casualties.

US president Barack Obama said in a television interview that Mr al-Maliki and the Iraqi leadership face a test as to whether “they are able to set aside their suspicions, their sectarian preferences for the good of the whole”.

He added: “And we don’t know. The one thing I do know is that if they fail to do that then no amount of military action by the United States can hold that country together.”