Kerry Lands In Badhdad, Bearing Warnings For Iraqi Leaders

Secretary of State John Kerry is touching on a number of complex foreign policy issues this week — from violence in Iraq, to political instability in Egypt and the conflict in Ukraine.NPR's Jackie Northam is on the trip and talks with All Things Considered.

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

As we heard the Secretary of State John Kerry was in Baghdad today where he met with Iraqi prime minister Nouri al-Maliki. Kerry said his visit was aimed at showing U.S. commitment to Iraq as it suffers an onslaught by the Sunni militant group ISIS. The group now controls much of the west and north of the country including the city of Mosul, one of Iraq's largest cities. And over the past several days, ISIS fighters have assaulted three key border posts. NPR's Jackie Northam is traveling with Sec. Kerry and she joins us now from Amman, Jordan. And first, Jackie, what can you tell us about Kerry's meetings in Baghdad today?

JACKIE NORTHAM, BYLINE: Well, they come at a critical juncture, the north and west of Iraq are in a grip of a brutal Sunni insurgency that has moved with lightning speed gobbling up parts of country and is spreading still. The Obama administration believes this wave of violence is largely the result of Maliki's sectarian, often brutal, leadership which has marginalized Iraq's Sunni communities. So Kerry pressed upon him, and other Iraqi leaders he met today, that Iraq needs a more inclusive government, you know, one that represents all people of Iraq. He said the future of Iraq depends on decisions they make now and that Maliki and the others must act quickly to form a new government. He said it can't take until next week they need to do it now.

CORNISH: John Kerry has said that ISIS represents an existential threat not just in Iraq but also in the whole region. We've seen Iraq's military crumble. What did Sec. Kerry say about any possible U.S. military action in dealing with the insurgency?

NORTHAM: Well, Kerry said the U.S. has already increased its intelligence and surveillance in Iraq and he said Iraqi leaders agreed today to work more closely with American joint military command that are already being set up around the country. Some of the roughly 300 military advisors, promised by the president, are already arriving being dispersed around Iraq. And Kerry said the first step will be for those advisors to assess the Iraqi security forces and then pass on their findings to the president.

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

So after they've assessed and passed on this findings, what then?

NORTHAM: Kerry said that the U.S. is already sending in a steady supply of munitions but with ISIS assaults on these very important border posts over the weekend, there's increased urgency. Kerry suggested that Pres. Obama might not wait until there's a political reconciliation between the Sunnis and Shiites in Iraq to take action and let's listen to what Sec. Kerry said today.

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SECRETARY OF STATE JOHN KERRY: Pres. Obama has not declared that he will wait. He has made it very clear in his most recent statement that he is preparing with the increased intelligence and the work the military is doing at this point in time. The president is prepared to take action when and if the president decides that is important.

NORTHAM: Now, Kerry did not specify what type of action he's talking about but the prime minister Maliki has asked the U.S. to launch airstrikes against ISIS militants. And Pres. Obama did say that is one of the options he can use if necessary. But airstrikes are risky, if they hit the wrong target it could just anger the Sunni population more, and they could be seen as the U.S. helping the Malki government. Kerry said today that any action by the U.S. not be seen as the U.S. taking sides with Maliki rather that it is going after ISIS.

BLOCK: OK, NPR's Jackie Northam of traveling Secretary of State John Kerry. She spoke with us from Amman, Jordan. Jackie, thanks so much.

NORTHAM: Thank you, Melissa.

BLOCK: You are listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

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