With a new Iraqi government finally in place and a growing Mideast consensus on defeating insurgent threats, US Secretary of State John Kerry arrived in Baghdad on Wednesday to press Iraq’s Shiite leader to quickly deliver more power to wary Sunnis or jeopardize any hope of defeating the Islamic State group.
Kerry landed in the Iraqi capital just two days after newly sworn Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi seated his top government ministers, a crucial step toward restoring stability in a nation where security has spiraled out of control since the beginning of the year.
The trip marks the first high-level US meeting with al-Abadi since he become prime minister, and it aimed to symbolize the Obama administration’s support for Iraq nearly three years after US troops left the war-torn country. But it also signaled to al-Abadi, a Shiite Muslim, that the US was watching to make sure he gives Iraqi Sunnis more control over their local power structures and security forces, as promised.
Al-Abadi’s predecessor, former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, for years shut Sunnis out of power and refused to pay tribal militias salaries or give them government jobs and in turn sowed widespread resentment that Islamic State extremists seized on as a recruiting tool.
State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Kerry will “meet with Iraqi government officials to welcome them on the successful formation of a new government.” She said officials also will “discuss how the United States can increase its support to Iraq’s new government in our common effort to defeat ISIL and the threat that it poses to Iraq, the region, and the world.” ISIL is an alternative name for the militant group.
Kerry’s trip comes on the eve of a meeting in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, where he and Arab leaders across the Mideast will discuss what nations can contribute to an ever-growing global coalition against the Islamic State. The US and nine other counties Canada, Australia and across Europe agreed last week to create a united front against the mostly Sunni extremist group that has overrun much of northern Iraq and Syria.
Tomorrow’s meeting in Jeddah seeks to do much of the same and will gage the level of support from the Sunni-dominated Mideast region. Kerry also was to visit Jordan. Officials hope to have a strategy blueprint against the Islamic State, backed up with specific steps nations are willing to take, by the opening of the annual meeting of the United Nations General Assembly in New York at the end of the month.