World Bulletin/News Desk
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry arrived in Baghdad on Wednesday as he began a tour of the Middle East to build military, political and financial support to defeat ISIL militants controlling parts of Iraq and Syria.
Two days after Iraq formed a new government, Kerry arrived in Baghdad to "take it to the next level", as a senior U.S. official put it, and find a way to defeat ISIL.
Speaking in front of reporters, Kerry told Abadi he was "encouraged" by the premier's plans for the "reconstituting" of the military and "your commitment to broad reforms that are necessary in Iraq to bring every segment of Iraqi society to the table."
He highlighted Abadi's readiness "to move forward rapidly on the oil agreements necessary for the Kurds, (and) on the representation of Sunnis in government and participation."
Haider al-Abadi, on his part, called for the international community to help Iraq fight ISIL, urging them "to act immediately to stop the spread of this cancer."
"Of course our role is to defend our country, but the international community is responsible for protecting Iraq and protecting Iraqis and the whole region," Abadi said, adding there was "a role for the international community, for the United Nations" in tackling the threat in neighboring Syria.
Kerry on Monday had hailed the formation of a new, more inclusive, Iraqi government under Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi as a "major milestone", and Washington had said it was vital before there could be further U.S. action to help push back the militants, who took over large parts of northern Iraq this year.
Last week nine countries, most of them in Europe, were named as the core group of a coalition President Barack Obama says will degrade and eventually destroy ISIL.
In Washington, Obama will give a speech on Wednesday in which he will detail his plan to "confront the radicals," which could take several years.
"We're now at the stage of beginning to build a broad-based coalition," a senior U.S. State Department official said. "There is, of course, military support, and that's everything from logistics and intelligence and airlifts and all the things it takes to conduct an effective military campaign."
Unlike his predecessor, Abadi enjoys the support of nearly all of Iraq's major political groups, and the two most influential outside powers, Iran and the United States.
While it is unclear what steps will be taken to strengthen the Iraqi army after its collapse in the face of an ISIL onslaught in June, the senior U.S. official said tentative plans for a new National Guard unit, announced by Abadi on Monday, were intended to deprive ISIL of safe havens by handing over security to the provinces.
The new Iraqi National Guard, the U.S. official suggested, was an evolution from the Awakening movement of Iraqi tribes and urban units that helped U.S. forces repel al Qaeda in 2007-10.
The U.S. official said the National Guard fighters would receive state salaries and pensions and be incorporated into "the formal security structures of the state".
The Awakening paramilitaries also received salaries from the Iraqi government, but the decision by the Iraqi government to pay salaries late, renege on promised jobs in the police and a campaign of arrests of some Awakening leaders, at least once with U.S. government support, weakened the Sunni community in its ability to stand up against ISIL.
Two vacant cabinet posts, the Defense and Interior ministries, were close to being filled, said the U.S. official, who spoke to reporters travelling with Kerry on condition of anonymity. Abadi "wanted to have a real consensus around the names, which I think was a very wise move. And so he's actually working on that as we speak," the official said.
Three car bombs exploded in a Shi'ite neighborhood in eastern Baghdad on Wednesday, killing nine people and wounding 29 others, a police officer said.
ENTRENCHED SECTARIAN TENSIONS
But while the United States hailed the new government as a breakthrough, sectarian tensions appeared as entrenched as ever, possibly worsened by a month of U.S. air strikes on ISIL.
While Kurdish and Shi'ite fighters have regained ground, Sunni Muslims who fled the violence near the northern town of Amerli are being prevented from returning home and some have had their houses pillaged and torched. Sunni Arabs are also feeling a backlash in villages where they used to live alongside Kurds, who accuse them of collaborating with ISIL.
The fallout risks worsening grievances that helped ISIL find support amongst Iraq's Sunnis and may make it more difficult to convince them to fight the militants, who portray the U.S. strikes as targeting their minority sect.
While the U.S. official praised weeks of U.S. air strikes as "highly precise" and "strategically effective", he acknowledged much work lay ahead. "It's going to be a very difficult, long road to get there," he said.
Any campaign to defeat ISIL could take one to three years, Kerry said.
Kerry will meet Jordan's King Abdullah later on Wednesday, and travel on Thursday to Saudi Arabia for talks that will include Egypt, Turkey, Jordan and the six-country Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), which comprises Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Oman and Qatar.
Saudi Arabia is unnerved by the rapid advance of ISIL and fears it could radicalise some of its own citizens and lead to attacks on the U.S.-allied government. Arab League foreign ministers agreed on Sunday to take all necessary measures to confront ISIL.
Obama wants Gulf Arab states to crack down on the flow of money and foreign fighters to ISIL, consider military action and support to Sunni Muslim moderates in Iraq and Syria, possibly through direct funds.
But while Saudi leaders have said they want to stabilize Iraq, they also fear the fight against ISIL could hasten U.S.-Iranian detente. The battle to overthrow Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, an ally of Riyadh's foe Shi'ite Iran, is seen as pivotal to their own future.
Riyadh fears that if Assad survives, Tehran will expand its influence across the region and encircle the kingdom. Saudi Arabia and Iran back opposing sides in wars and political struggles in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Bahrain and Yemen.
In Jordan, Kerry is expected to receive requests for extra military aid, including helicopters and border security equipment, along with part of the $500 million the Obama administration has proposed to accelerate training of moderate Syrian rebels, a Jordanian official told Reuters.
Jordan is considered a top choice to host the training of the rebels due its close security relationship with Washington, proximity to neighbouring Syria and pool of more than 600,000 Syrian refugees. Jordan, however, fears retaliation from Syria if its territory is used for overt training.
Jordan already hosts a small and ostensibly covert effort by the CIA to equip and train small groups of Assad's opponents.Last Mod: 10 Eylül 2014, 14:49