BAGHDAD: US Secretary of State John Kerry landed in Baghdad on Monday on a surprise trip to push for Iraqi unity and stability, as Sunni militants advanced in west Iraq after security forces retreated.
Flying in from Jordan on a visit which the State Department had sought to keep secret amid security concerns, Kerry was to meet with beleaguered Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki and Iraqi leaders across the political and communal spectrum.
Kerry “will discuss US actions underway to assist Iraq as it confronts this threat from ISIL [Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant] and urge Iraqi leaders to move forward as quickly as possible with its government formation process to forge a government,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said.
Iraqi security forces are struggling to hold their ground in the face of an insurgent onslaught that has seized major areas of five provinces, displaced hundreds of thousands of people, and sparked fears that the country could be torn apart.
The militants, led by the jihadist ISIL, swept into the towns of Rawa and Ana in Anbar province, west of Baghdad, after taking the Al-Qaim border crossing with Syria.
They then gunned down 21 local leaders in Rawa and Ana in two days of violence, according to officers and doctors.
The government said its forces made a “tactical” withdrawal from the towns, control of which allows the militants to widen a strategic route to neighboring Syria where they also hold swathes of countryside along the Euphrates river valley.
Cut Isil funding
ISIL aims to create an Islamic state incorporating both Iraq and Syria, where the group has become a major force in the rebellion against President Bashar al-Assad.
Washington wants Arab states to bring pressure on Iraq’s leaders to speed up government for–mation, which has made little headway since April elections, and has tried to convince them ISIL poses as much of a threat to them as to Iraq.
Washington’s top diplomat warned all countries, particularly in the Gulf, that “there is no safety margin whatsoever in funding a group like ISIL.”
The group, which has been at the forefront of the insurgent offensive, has commandeered an enormous quantity of cash and resources as a result of the advance, bolstering coffers that were already the envy of militant groups around the world.
US leaders have stopped short of calling for Maliki to step down, but there is little doubt that they feel he has squandered the opportunity to rebuild Iraq since US troops withdrew in 2011.
“The United States would like to see the Iraqi people find leadership that is prepared to represent all of the people of Iraq,” Kerry told reporters in Cairo on Sunday at the end of a visit to Egypt.
He noted that minority Kurds and Sunni Arabs, and even some within Maliki’s own Shiite community, had voiced dissatisfaction with the premier’s leadership, and said the government had to “rise above sectarian motivations.”
The Iraqi government has “to be inclusive and share power in a way that will maximize the ability of Iraq to focus on the real danger at this moment from an external source, which is ISIL,” Kerry insisted.