Kerry arrives in Baghdad on anti-ISIS tour

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry arrives at Queen Alia Airport in Amman before making his way to Baghdad on September 10, 2014.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry arrives at Queen Alia Airport in Amman before making his way to Baghdad on September 10, 2014.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry arrived in Baghdad Wednesday for talks with Iraq’s new premier, in an unannounced stop on a regional tour aimed at building support for an anti-militant campaign.

Kerry was to meet Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi, whose newly minted government is fighting to push back against militants led by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) militant group who overran large areas of the country.

He will “discuss how the United States can increase its support to Iraq’s new government in our common effort to defeat (ISIS) and the threat that it poses to Iraq, the region, and the world,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said in a statement.

A senior State Department official told reporters travelling with Kerry that the top U.S. diplomat would also meet with President Fuad Masum, parliament speaker Salim al-Juburi and Foreign Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari.

Iraq “will have a critical role in this effort to have a global coalition to begin to degrade and ultimately defeat” ISIS, the official said.

Iraq has faced heavy pressure from the United States to form an inclusive government to bring its various religious and ethnic groups on board for the fight against IS, and on Monday MPs approved the nominations of 26 cabinet-level nominees, ushering in Abadi’s government.

But the religious and ethnic breakdown of the new cabinet is largely the same as the previous one, and almost a third of the ministers and deputy premiers have held such posts before.

The official said that while major challenges remain, the approval of the new government — which is still incomplete, with key security posts unfilled — is an important step.

“Nobody says, oh great… the road ahead is going to be simple. It’s going to be extremely, extremely difficult. But if you look at what happened (Monday), it’s significant.”

Iraqi security forces were swept aside by the initial ISIS-led onslaught, but Baghdad gained its first major offensive success of the conflict late last month, when troops, Shiite militiamen and Kurdish fighters broke an 11-week jihadist siege of the town of Amerli.

The United States carried out limited air strikes in support of the operation, thus at least indirectly aiding the Shiite militiamen, some of whom fought American forces in Iraq in past years.

The combined forces have since pushed into surrounding areas, regaining further ground, but swathes of the country are still outside government control.

The senior State Department official said that there will be a variety of tasks for the anti-ISIS coalition the U.S. is working to form.

There is “military support, and that’s everything from logistics and intelligence and airlift and all the things it takes to conduct an effective military campaign.”

Other efforts include countering the group’s financing, seeking to prevent foreign fighters from joining it, and working to delegitimize its extreme religious doctrine, the official said.

 
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