UK & World News

  • 24 June 2014, 17:16

Kerry: Kurdish Forces Critical In Defeating ISIS

Kurdish forces are "really critical" to the challenge of halting a Sunni militant assault across Iraq which is threatening to split the country, John Kerry has said.

The US Secretary of State is in the Iraqi city of Irbil to urge the autonomous Kurdish region's president not to turn his back on talks in Baghdad.

The diplomatic drive comes amid reports Sunni militants from the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) have gained full control over Iraq's main oil refinery at Baiji, south of Mosul.

The Iraqi defence ministry has released a video showing bombing by government helicopters aimed at repelling an ISIS attack.

It says a number of militants were killed and vehicles destroyed. But Sunni fighters are still claiming victory.

After spending a day in Baghdad, Mr Kerry is now meeting with Kurdish regional President Massoud Barzani after his security forces took control of the northern oil city of Kirkuk earlier this month.

He told Mr Barzani: "As everybody knows, this is a very critical time for Iraq and the government formation challenge is the central challenge that we face."

Kurdish forces were "really critical in helping draw a line" with respect to ISIS, he added.

Mr Barzani told Mr Kerry his people were seeking "a solution for the crisis that we have witnessed".

He added: "With these changes we are facing a new reality and a new Iraq."

Mr Kerry is hoping to smooth the bitter political feuds that have given rise to the Sunni insurgency in northern and western Iraq, as prospects of a bloody civil war heighten.

Mr Kerry will be encouraging Mr Barzani to press Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki's government to be more inclusive of the country's Sunni and Kurdish minorities.

Kurds represent a fifth of Iraq's population, while the Kurdish region is boosted by the wealth of its several oil fields - an incentive to secure a fully independent state.

Mr Maliki reassured Mr Kerry in Baghdad on Monday that he would meet a July 1 deadline to form a new inclusive government.

However, Mr Barzani has called for Mr Maliki, whom he blames for Iraq's present troubles, to resign.

In an interview with CNN ahead of Mr Kerry's visit, the Kurdish president said: "We are living in a different era. During the last 10 years we did everything in our ability ... to build a new democratic Iraq, but unfortunately the experience has not been successful."

"The time is here for the Kurdistan people to determine their future and the decision of the people is what we are going to uphold."

A senior Sunni leader has also told Sky News that his men will continue to fight Iraq's Shia-led government forces until Mr Maliki steps down.

Sheikh Al-Salman, who heads a militant group of fighters which now number in the thousands, warned: "If Maliki stays in power Iraq will end."