Brendan Smialowski/AP
US Secretary of State John Kerry, left, meets with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki at the Prime Minister's office in Baghdad on Monday, June 23, 2014.

Kerry seeks 'inclusive' leadership from Iraqi PM as ISIS insurgency spreads

Secretary of State John Kerry arrived in Baghdad after stops in Jordan and Egypt amid accusations by Iran's supreme leader that the US was meddling in Iraqi politics. 

US Secretary of State John Kerry arrived in Baghdad today in an effort to persuade Iraq's embattled prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, "to be inclusive and share power" in order to shore up Iraq's resistance to Sunni insurgents sweeping across the country. 

Mr. Kerry, who visited Cairo and Amman, Jordan, on Sunday, suggested to reporters that US support for Mr. Maliki was ebbing, as the Shiite prime minister's sectarian policies have alienated Iraq's Sunnis, who in turn have supported the extremist Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, or ISIS. Kerry told reporters in Cairo that "The United States would like to see the Iraqi people find leadership that is prepared to represent all of the people of Iraq," reports Agence France-Presse.

Reuters notes that Kerry denied that the US was seeking to choose Iraq's leadership, a charge made on Sunday by Iranian supreme leader Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. "The United States is not engaged in picking or choosing or advocating for any one individual, or series of individuals, to assume the leadership of Iraq," Kerry said. "That is up to the Iraqi people and we have made that clear since day one."

Voice of America adds that the secretary of state will meet with senior Sunni and Kurdish officials as well.

Despite Washington's frustration with Maliki, The Christian Science Monitor's Dan Murphy notes that "Iraqis are actual people, with their own interests, not clay dolls ready to have US interests and demands imprinted upon them." Mr. Murphy writes that the US has had little leverage over Maliki since engineering his path to power, and that is not going to change quickly, even with ISIS on the march.

While the collapse of Iraq's army in much of the northern half of the country – and the loss of cities and towns like Mosul and Tikrit, and the oil refining center of Baiji, just north of Baghdad – may give the US some leverage over Maliki, he may not be inclined to commit political suicide. He already mobilized Shiite militias to fight the Sunni Arab uprising, and the political lesson he drew from the uprising appears to be that he was not tough enough. ...

The US brought the current Iraqi government to power, promised it would respect Iraq's sovereignty, and now finds that controlling Iraqi politics is well beyond its ability. That was something agreed to long ago.

The Monitor's Scott Peterson, reporting from Baghdad, adds that the Sunnis alienated by Maliki have been quick to back ISIS. But former leaders of Iraq's Sunni Awakening – a network of Iraqi Sunnis who, with US support, helped the Iraqi government beat back Al Qaeda in Iraq seven years ago – say that may be due to a lack of awareness of ISIS’ violent methods.

[Former Awakening fighter] Abu Omar says his relatives in areas captured by ISIS are “wrong” to be “happy because ISIS told them they will remove injustice.” They instead compiled computer databases of every one who has worked for the government, “and they won’t stop killing them,” he predicts.

Relatives in Mosul “never saw [ISIS] killing people,” just organizing services to help, says Abu Omar. “This is a good thing, to win people’s loyalty, to show the people of Mosul the nice face, and with this loyalty they will brainwash people to get some fighters with them.”

The secretary's visit comes as ISIS controls a huge swath of territory across both Iraq and Syria, and has begun to menace Jordan as well. On Sunday, ISIS forces captured the Iraqi-Jordanian border crossing of Turaibil, after government forces fled the site, the Associated Press reports. The seizure cuts off Baghdad's primary land route to Jordan.

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