Kerry urges reform in Iraq

Published 10:20 am Monday, June 23, 2014

BAGHDAD — U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on Monday urged Iraq’s top Shiite leaders to give more government power to political opponents before a Sunni insurgency seizes more control across the country and sweeps away hopes for lasting peace.

The closed-door meeting between Kerry and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki was not expected to be friendly, given that officials in Washington have floated suggestions that the Iraqi premier should resign as a necessary first step toward quelling the vicious uprising.

Nor will it likely bring any immediate, tangible results, as al-Maliki has shown no sign of leaving and Iraqi officials have long listened to — but ultimately ignored — U.S. advice to avoid appearing controlled by the decade-old specter of an American occupation in Baghdad.

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Still, Kerry appeared encouraged after the discussion with al-Maliki, which ran for a little over 90 minutes and was held in the same complex where an Iraqi journalist threw a shoe at former President George W, Bush as an insult in 2008.

Walking to his motorcade after the meeting, Kerry said “that was good.” He was being escorted by Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari. Kerry also met with the influential Shiite cleric, Ammar al-Hakim, and with Parliament Speaker Osama al-Nujaifi, one of Iraq’s top-ranking Sunnis.

In his meeting with al-Nujaifi, Kerry said “these are difficult times.” He said President Barack Obama and the American people remain committed to Iraq and are concerned about its security and the political chaos.

“But the principal concern is for the Iraqi people — for the integrity of the country, its borders, for its sovereignty,” Kerry said.

Al-Nujaifi, who is from Mosul, which was overrun earlier this month by militants, described the Islamic extremists as “a threat to the entire world. And we have to confront it through direct military operations, political reforms so that we can inject a new hope into our own people so that they can support the political process and the unity of Iraq.”