Kerry Says ISIS Threat Could Hasten Military Action
BAGHDAD — Winding up a day of crisis talks with Iraqi leaders, Secretary of State John Kerry said on Monday that the Sunni militants seizing territory in Iraq had become such a threat that the United States might not wait for Iraqi politicians to form a new government before taking military action.
“They do pose a threat,” Mr. Kerry said, referring to the fighters from the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. “They cannot be given safe haven anywhere.”
“That’s why, again, I reiterate the president will not be hampered if he deems it necessary if the formation is not complete,” he added, referring to the Iraqi efforts to establish a new multisectarian government that bridges the deep divisions among the majority Shiites and minority Sunnis, Kurds and other smaller groups.
Mr. Kerry flew in a C-17 military aircraft to Iraq on Monday from Amman, Jordan, to try to hasten that political process. He began his day with a meeting with Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki of Iraq and some of his top security aides, which lasted 100 minutes.
Mr. Kerry then met in rapid succession with Ammar al-Hakim, a Shiite cleric from the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, a Shiite political party that is a rival of Mr. Maliki’s State of Law political coalition, and with Osama al-Nujaifi, the Sunni speaker of Iraq’s Parliament. Mr. Kerry also met with Hoshyar Zebari, the Kurd who serves as Iraq’s foreign minister.
In a news conference after the meetings at the heavily fortified American Embassy, Mr. Kerry reported that he had urged Iraqi politicians to move quickly to form a new gov
But there has been intensive jockeying for power not just among the main Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish blocs but also within them. Experts have warned that the government formation could drag on for months.
Iraqi leaders, Mr. Kerry noted, had affirmed the need to convene Parliament by July to begin the constitutional process of forming the new government as required from the April parliamentary elections. The process is supposed to begin with the selection of parliament speaker, a post that has traditionally gone to a Sunni, and will then move to picking a new president, a position that has traditionally gone to a Kurd. Then a prime minister will be picked: either Mr. Maliki, a Shiite, or one of his Shiite rivals.
While the political consultations continue behind closed doors, ISIS has become a growing regional danger. Its fighters have basically erased Iraq’s western border with Syria, which is expected to strengthen their position there. They have also taken the town of Rutba in western Iraq, which sits astride the road to Jordan and could head south from there to Saudi Arabia.
Within Iraq, American officials say, ISIS has set its sights on destroying the Shiite shrine in Samarra, which would likely lead to an explosion of sectarian violence in Iraq. An attack on the shrine in early 2006 escalated a wave of sectarian killings that was not reduced until the United States troop surge in 2007 and 2008.
“Clearly, everyone understands that Samarra is an important line,” Mr. Kerry said. ” Historically, an assault on Samarra created enormous problems in Iraq. That is something that we all do not want to see happen again. And so the president and the team, the entire security team, are watching this movement and these events very, very closely.”
So great are the concerns that Mr. Kerry stressed on Monday that if American action is taken soon — President Obama has said that he is considering airstrikes — it should not be interpreted as a gesture of political support for Mr. Maliki’s Shiite-dominated government, but rather as a strike against the ISIS militants.
Such a decision by Mr. Obama, Mr. Kerry said, should not be considered to be an act of “support for the existing prime minister or for one sect or another.”
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