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John Kerry Makes Sudden Trip to Iraq, Affirming U.S. Aid in ISIS Fight
Secretary of State John Kerry made an unannounced visit to Baghdad on Friday, promising continuing American military and humanitarian aid in the fight against the Islamic State, and showing support for the country's embattled prime minister, Haider al-Abadi.
The visit came as Iraqi militias and military forces have been making notable progress on the battlefield against the Islamic State, including seizing parts of Hit, a city in Anbar Province, this week. But politically, Mr. Abadi's government has been in crisis, undermined by fellow Shiite politicians, struggling to curb corruption and weakened by an economy gutted by low oil prices.
Mr. Kerry, visiting Iraq for the first time in two years, made a point of praising Mr. Abadi, saying the prime minister had showed "critical leadership" despite grave difficulties. And Mr. Kerry called for sectarian and political unity behind the government, saying it was critical to rolling back the Islamic State, also known as ISIS and ISIL.
"It is important to have a unified and functioning government as soon as possible, so that these operations are not affected," Mr. Kerry said in a news conference. "We call on the Iraqi political blocs to work together for the sake of their country and to keep Iraq's interests a priority over other personal and sectarian interests."
He said it was vital to continue putting pressure on the Islamic State, saying that airstrikes and assistance from American trainers and Special Operations forces in Iraq, now numbering around 4,000, had been effective and would be critical to the main goal ahead: retaking the city of Mosul, in northern Nineveh Province. But that direct assault has long been delayed, and for the time being, he said, Iraqi officials had not requested additional troops from the United States.
Mr. Kerry promised $155 million in additional humanitarian assistance, particularly to help in rebuilding cities destroyed in the fighting, like the Anbar provincial capital, Ramadi, and to help displaced families resettle.
Meeting privately with Mr. Abadi, he also discussed maintaining close relations between the United States and Iraq, according to a statement from Mr. Abadi's office. Despite the mutual expressions of support, that relationship has been tested in recent months. Iran, a close ally of Iraq's Shiite political leadership, has resisted increased American military assistance, and Russia, as it has become more involved in the sectarian war next door in Syria, has also sought to strengthen its influence in Iraq, as a counter to American interests in the region.
Mr. Kerry met later with the Iraqi foreign minister, Ibrahim al-Jaafari, and with Sunni and Kurdish political leaders.
He arrived in Baghdad after attending a Gulf Cooperation Council conference in Bahrain, where he pressed other governments in the region to help shore up the Iraqi government and seek a solution to the conflicts in Syria and Yemen.
[Source: By Omar Al-Jawoshy, The New York Times, Baghdad, 08Apr16]
War in Afghanistan & Iraq
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