John Kerry Arrives In Iraq, Meets With Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki
As battles continue to rage on in the northern region of Iraq, Secretary of State John Kerry met with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki on Monday to discuss plans for a new government. Many Iraqi officials are reportedly putting pressure on al-Maliki to step down, calling for new leadership within the embattled nation. Kerry did not urge the Iraqi prime minister to resign from his position, which he won by reelection in April, but did withdraw pledges from the current Iraqi government. President al-Maliki has been accused of exacerbating tensions between the Shiites and the Iraq's minority Sunni and Kurd factions.
Kerry told the press after his meeting with al-Maliki:
President Obama asked me to visit Baghdad today to demonstrate America’s support for Iraq and its people during this time of crisis. This is clearly a moment when the stakes for Iraq’s future could not be clearer. ISIL’s campaign of terror, their grotesque acts of violence and repressive ideology pose a grave danger to Iraq’s future. ISIL [or ISIS] is not, as it claims, fighting on behalf of Sunnis. ISIL is not fighting for a stronger Iraq; quite the contrary. ISIL is fighting to divide Iraq and to destroy Iraq.
Kerry added that this is a "critical moment" for Iraq and its future. He emphasized that ISIS does not only pose a threat for Iraq, but also other nations, including neighboring Syria.
On Tuesday, Kerry met with Massoud Barzani, the president of the Kurdish Regional Government, an autonomous-governing body that rules northern Iraq, a predominately Kurdish region. Kerry urged the Kurdish leader to support the Iraqi government, claiming that a unified Iraq is the only way to gain control over the ISIS militants.
However, Barzani said this is a "new reality" for Iraq, renewing fears among U.S. state officials that the Kurds might break away from Iraq due to the country's growing instability. In a separate interview with CNN's Christina Amanpour, Barzani said Iraq is "falling apart" and claimed it's time for the Kurdistan people to decide their own fate. "We did not cause the collapse of Iraq. It is others who did. And we cannot remain hostages for the unknown," Barzani said.
Kerry's visit comes at a time where Iraq has again erupted with violence. ISIS militants have reportedly taken control of an oil refinery in Baiji, about 110 miles north of Baghdad. The refinery reportedly supplies Iraq with one-third of its oil.
Iraq's religious leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said in a statement published by the IRNA Agency that U.S. involvement isn't needed in Iraq. "The United States is trying to portray this as a sectarian war. But what is happening in Iraq is not a war between Shiite and Sunnis," the Ayatollah said.
According to the United Nations, more than 1,000 people have died this month as a result of the ISIS attacks. The U.N. says most of the casualties are civilians.