Kerry confronts threat of new war in Iraq

U.S. Secretary of State landed in Baghdad to press Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki to form a more inclusive government

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U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry urged Iraq’s prime minister in Baghdad on Monday to give more government power to political opponents before a Sunni insurgency seizes more control across the country and sweeps away hopes for lasting peace.

During the closed-door meeting, there was little small talk between Kerry met Maliki, who were seating in a room with other officials, according to Reuters news agency.

Maliki told Kerry that the militant onslaught in Iraq is a threat to the region and the world.

The crisis “represents a threat not only to Iraq but to regional and international peace,” Maliki told Washington's top diplomat in Baghdad, a statement from his office said.

The meeting lasted one hour and 40 minutes, after which Kerry was escorted to his car by Iraq’s Foreign Minister Hoshiyar Zebari.

Kerry appeared encouraged after the discussion with Maliki, which was held in the same complex where an Iraqi journalist threw a shoe at former President George W, Bush as an insult in 2008.

The Secretary of State also met with the influential Shiite cleric, Ammar al-Hakim, and with Parliament Speaker Osama al-Nujaifi and Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlaq, the nation’s two highest-ranking Sunnis.

U.S. 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.

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. While Washington has been careful not to say publicly it wants Maliki to relinquish power, Iraqi officials say such a message has been delivered behind the scenes.

Washington, which withdrew its troops from Iraq in 2011 after an occupation that followed the 2003 invasion that toppled dictator Saddam Hussein, has been struggling to help Iraq contain a Sunni insurgency led by ISIS, an al-Qaeda offshoot which seized northern towns this month.

(With Reuters and AFP)