U.S. Defense Secretary Makes Unannounced Visit To Iraq
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Some other news - Defense Secretary Ashton Carter has made a surprise visit to Iraq. He's in the country where the U.S. military is advising and using air power to support Iraqis fighting ISIS. NPR's David Welna has been traveling with the defense secretary. He's in Baghdad. Hi, David.
DAVID WELNA, BYLINE: Hi, Steve.
INSKEEP: What's the secretary doing?
WELNA: So the secretary came here primarily to meet with the prime minister, Abadi, with Iraq's defense minister. But he's also going to meet with a delegation of Sunni tribal leaders from Anbar province, much of which is occupied right now by Islamic States forces. And this is as Iraqi security forces are planning an assault to retake Ramadi from the Islamic State. And they have already begun operations to try to isolate and shape the area around Ramadi, with the idea that they'll begin an assault on the city once they feel that that shaping operation has been sufficient. And this could be several thousand Iraqi forces against 1,000 to 2,000 Islamic State forces that are occupying Ramadi.
INSKEEP: Oh, now you've gotten to the heart of things when you say that Ashton Carter is meeting with Sunni tribal leaders because I guess we should remember that there's a Shia Muslim-dominated government in Iraq, and the Sunni-dominated areas have largely fallen under the control of ISIS, this Sunni group. So you're saying that Carter is personally involved in trying to get the Sunnis back over to the U.S. side and its allies?
WELNA: Well, he's trying to get the military situation to recover some of these areas that the Islamic State has seized. But he's also pushing for a political settlement to this. No real military solution - at least as American officials see it - is possible here without some sort of reconciliation between the Shiites and the Sunnis. And he's going to be urging Prime Minister Abadi towards that. Abadi seems predisposed to do so, but he is surrounded by many other Shiite officials who do not seem so much. And also, we have Shiite militias in the Baghdad area who have backing from Iran, who do not seem to be set on any kind of reconciliation.
INSKEEP: David, thanks for checking in.
WELNA: Sure, Steve.
INSKEEP: That's NPR's David Welna, traveling with Defense Secretary Ash Carter there in Baghdad.
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