UK & World News

  • 23 June 2014, 18:55

US Offers Iraq 'Intense And Sustained' Support

US support for Iraq's security forces battling a militant insurgency will be "intense and sustained", John Kerry has said.

Speaking after meeting Nouri al Maliki in Baghdad, the US Secretary of State said Iraq's embattled PM had reaffirmed his commitment to forming a new government by July 1.

"This is a critical moment for Iraq's future, Mr Kerry said at a news conference in Baghdad. "It is a moment of decision for Iraq's leaders and it's a moment of great urgency."

The pair met for 90 minutes, with Iraq's Shia leader again urging America to target Sunni militant positions in Iraq and Syria with airstrikes, according to officials.

Mr Kerry reportedly responded by saying the US needed to take care to avoid civilian casualties before any attacks are launched - to avoid creating an impression that America is targeting Sunnis.

Mr Kerry also urged the Iraqi PM to hand more government power to political opponents in a bid to quell the ISIS insurgency sweeping across the country.

The meeting was expected to be tense after Washington officials floated the idea that the divisive Mr al Maliki might resign as a first step towards peace.

But Mr Kerry appeared encouraged by the talks, saying "that was good" as he walked to his motorcade.

Ahead of Mr Kerry's visit, Barack Obama warned that the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), which is carrying out a lightning offensive in Iraq, could grow in power, destabilise the region and pose a threat to the US.

Mr Obama said: "Right now the problem with ISIS is the fact that they're destabilising the country. That could spill over into some of our allies like Jordan."

The American president spoke hours after the Islamist militants made dramatic gains by capturing four towns in western Iraq on Sunday.

Haditha, Anah, Rawa and Rotba - along with a number of villages - were taken as the swept east from the Syrian border, where it captured a border crossing on Saturday, in its latest offensive.

The group was also reported to have seized two more border crossings - the Turaibil crossing with Jordan and the al Walid crossing with Syria.

Speaking from Baghdad, Sky's Foreign Affairs Editor Sam Kiley said the militants' rapid grab of power "is very significant as it appears the Iraqi army has folded up without a fight.

He said: "These are major strategic prizes, not necessarily big towns but all of them on the main route to Syria and on the Euphrates river."

Kiley said the big prize appears to be Haditha, which contains an important power-generating plant for Baghdad.

Dozens of Iraqi tanks, armoured vehicles and special forces troops were being sent to Haditha in an attempt to regain control and protect a dam across the Euphrates, according to Sky sources.

ISIS had already taken control of the cities of Fallujah and Ramadi in predominantly Sunni Anbar province before it seized Iraq's second city Mosul, and Baiji, home to the country's largest oil refinery, in an aggressive offensive in the north.

The crisis is already having an impact worldwide, hitting airlines and travel companies as oil prices rise sharply.

Young Iraqis have been flocking to recruitment centres at the weekend to join the counter-offensive against ISIS. According to official records, some two million young men have volunteered in the past seven days.

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