Kerry: Iraq faces ‘existential threat’ from ISIS

Kerry vows that the United States would provide ‘intense’ support to Iraq to help it battle a militant offensive

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U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry warned on Monday that the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) poses an existential threat to Iraq, after the group overrun swathes of territory north of Baghdad.

“It is a moment of decision for Iraq’s leaders,” Kerry told journalists. “Iraq faces an existential threat and Iraq’s leaders have to meet that threat.”

He vowed that the United States would provide “intense” support to Iraq to help it battle a militant offensive.

“The support will be intense, sustained, and if Iraq’s leaders take the steps needed to bring the country together it will be effective,” Kerry added.

ISIS militants on Monday seized a border crossing between Iraq and Syria and the security forces that had been guarding it headed south to join troops at another crossing with Jordan, a colonel and a captain in the border guards said, according to AFP.

Meanwhile, the strategic Shiite-majority north Iraq town of Tal Afar and its airport is also reported to be in the hands of the militants after days of heavy fighting, a local official and witnesses said.

“The town of Tal Afar and the airport... are completely under the control of the militants,” the official said on condition of anonymity.

Witnesses said security forces had departed the town, and confirmed that militants were in control.

Security forces are still fighting in the Tal Afar area, Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki’s security spokesman Lieutenant General Qassem Atta said on television.

But he added: “Even if we withdrew from Tal Afar or any other area, this does not mean that it is a defeat.”

During his televised announcement, Atta also said that “hundreds” of Iraqi soldiers have been killed by Sunni Arab militants in a major offensive that has overrun vast areas of the country.

Tal Afar, which is located along a strategic corridor to Syria, had been the largest town in the northern province of Nineveh not to fall to militants.

In another development, global stock markets mostly fell amid concerns about turmoil in Iraq.

Investors were watching with unease the escalating violence in Iraq, where militants over the weekend captured a chunk of new territory in the country’s west.

Some worry that the violence could further destabilize the region and possibly affect the flow of energy exports.

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