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John Kerry Arrives in Iraq for Talks on ISIS

Secretary of State John Kerry arrived here on Wednesday for top-level talks to forge a coalition against the Sunni militants who have seized control of much of northern and western Iraq and to show support for Iraq's new government.

The Obama administration has made the formation of an inclusive Iraqi government a precondition for expanded security assistance to Baghdad in its fight against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

Mr. Kerry met with Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, the Shiite politician who has taken over from Nuri Kamal al-Maliki. Mr. Kerry also plans to consult with Fuad Masum, the Kurd who serves as Iraq's new president, and Salim al-Jubouri, a Sunni and the speaker of Parliament.

Even though two crucial and potentially divisive posts remained unfilled -- those of the defense and interior ministers -- Mr. Kerry has described the progress made in forming a power-sharing government as a "major milestone" and administration officials believe it is a sufficient basis to hold detailed talks on a joint strategy against ISIS.

Iraq will have a "critical role" in the effort to "degrade and ultimately eventually defeat" ISIS, a senior State Department official told reporters traveling with Mr. Kerry, "and that will be the main focus on his talks."

Mr. Kerry met with Mr. Abadi in the same vast and ornate place that the United States used as its headquarters during its occupation of Iraq. It now serves as an office for the new Iraqi prime minister

A major purpose of Mr. Kerry's visit is to press Iraqi leaders to continue their efforts to establish an inclusive government in which the Shia majority will share power the Sunnis and Kurds -- a step that the Obama administration has insisted is a precondition for expanded security cooperation in fighting ISIS.

Mr. Abadi was well aware of the political requirement and sought in brief remarks when the press was briefly let into the meeting to demonstrate that the Iraqis were making headway on a power-sharing arrangement.

"Everybody is on board," he said, speaking in fluent English as he appealed for international support in taking on the militants.

"They are a challenge to the whole region," he said. "What is happening in Syria is coming across to Iraq."

In a gesture of support, Mr. Kerry asserted that progress was being made on forming an inclusive government and in resolving longstanding disputes with the Kurds on oil export arrangements, but offered no details.

"We are very encouraged," Mr. Kerry said

Mr. Kerry also said he planned give the Iraqis a preview of the address President Obama plans to give Wednesday night on how to the United States could help Iraq fight ISIS.

Iraq is still riven with sectarian divisions, which ISIS has exploited by playing on the Sunni resentments against Mr. Maliki, many of whom continue to harbor suspicions of Mr. Abadi's efforts.

One major initiative to roll back ISIS gains in Iraq, American officials said, is the establishment of national guard units that would be recruited locally and given the main security responsibilities in their home areas.

In an echo of the Sunni Awakening, in which Iraqi tribes made common cause with American forces to fight Al Qaeda in Iraq, some of the national guard units would be drawn from local tribes. But unlike the Awakening, the soldiers would formally be part of Iraq's security structure and would be trained on Iraqi military bases. Reporting to local governors, they would also receive salaries and pensions from the government.

The plan is intended to rebuild the fighting capability that the Iraqi government lost after much of its army faded away in the face of the ISIS onslaught.

The decentralization of security responsibilities is also intended to ease sectarian tensions by giving Sunnis more control over their own affairs and reducing the need for the largely Shiite army to be deployed on their territory. And it would replace the ad hoc arrangements for paying Awakening members that eventually led to its demise.

"The people of Anbar will take on ISIL," the State Department official added, using an alternative name for ISIS. "The people of Nineveh will take on ISIL in Nineveh, and they will have assistance from the national army when they need it."

"One thing Abadi has said repeatedly," the official added, "is that he is not going to use "military units from the south and go into areas in the north and west" to fight ISIS.

But the plan still requires assistance from the United States or other nations in training and advising the Iraqi military that would back up the local forces. And it requires a major effort to enlist Sunnis in the new national guard units, persuade them to pledge loyalty to the Iraqi government and equip and train them so they would be a credible fighting force.

"So the core principle in Iraq of what comes after ISIL is now pretty well laid out," said the State Department official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity under the State Department's protocol for briefing reporters. "It's going to be a very difficult, long road to get there."

Iraq is just the first stop for Mr. Kerry on his travels in the Middle East to try to line up support against ISIS.

Mr. Kerry will also be meeting in Amman with King Abdullah II of Jordan. And he will travel to Jidda, Saudi Arabia, where Saudi and other Arab officials are gathering to discuss how to respond to the threat posed by ISIS.

Saudi Arabia and other gulf states also have influence with Iraq's Sunnis, and American officials hope they will encourage them to line up against ISIS and cooperate with the new Iraqi government, including the new decentralized security structure that is envisaged and the national guard units.

After leaving the Middle East, Mr. Kerry will fly to Paris to attend an international conference on Iraq's future and the threat posed by ISIS, Jen Psaki, the State Department spokeswoman, said Wednesday.

[Source: By Michael R. Gordon, The New York Times, 10Sep14]

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small logoThis document has been published on 15Sep14 by the Equipo Nizkor and Derechos Human Rights. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.