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Kerry in Erbil for Tough Sell to Iraq's Kurds

Kerry and Barzani exchange greetings before going into a meeting. Photo: AFP
Kerry and Barzani exchange greetings before going into a meeting. Photo: AFP

By Raed Asad Ahmed and Rekar Aziz

ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – US Secretary of State John Kerry arrived in Erbil Tuesday to try to urge the autonomous Kurds not to quit the political process in Baghdad, after promising “sustained and intense” support to counter a blitz by Sunni militants that threatens to splinter Iraq.

Iraq has been plunging deeper into turmoil since insurgents that include the radical Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) captured its second-largest city, Mosul, a fortnight ago, starting a juggernaut that has seen the Iraqi army collapse and large cities and territories falling to the rebels.

In Baghdad on Monday, embattled Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki promised Kerry he would form a new government by July 1, following recent elections that preceded the current crisis, as militants reportedly captured the Baiji refinery, the country’s largest.

There were still conflicting reports about whether government forces or the rebels were in control of the oil facility in the country’s north.

In Erbil, Kerry went into a meeting with Kurdistan Region President Massoud Barzani to urge the Kurds – who have no love lost for the Shiite Maliki and have said he must step down instead of seeking a third term -- to help in the formation of a new Iraqi government.

Kurdish support will be key to hold Iraq together.

The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), on the other hand, has moved its Peshmerga military into vast territories outside its official borders to secure Kurdish-inhabited areas left vacant by a wholesale retreat of the Iraqi army.

That includes the oil city of Kirkuk, which the Kurds consider the capital of a future state.

Convincing the Kurds will be a tough sell for Kerry, because for years Erbil has had nothing but problems with Baghdad. In a CNN interview aired Monday, Barzani said “it is time now for the Kurdistan people to determine their future,” the strongest statement he has made regarding independence.

"Iraq is obviously falling apart anyway, and it's obvious that a federal or central government has lost control over everything," Barzani told CNN.

In Baghdad, Kerry said US support would work only if Iraq remains together.

"The support will be intense and sustained and if Iraq's leaders take the necessary steps to bring the country together, it will be effective,” Kerry told reporters.

Although the Kurds have Kirkuk, whose oil revenues would surpass anything they could get from staying part of Iraq, their Peshmerga forces also have been facing attacks in areas they recently moved into.

On Monday morning, two Improvised explosive devices (IEDs) went off on the Rabia border crossing between Iraq and Syria, killing one Kurdish soldier and injuring six of his colleagues, Peshmerga officer Muzaffar Silkayi said.

Peshmerga forces took over the checkpoint after the Iraqi army deserted its positions. ISIS militants, who are fighting both in Iraq and Syria, are already in control of two Iraqi border crossings to Syria. The goal of the rebels is to establish an Islamic state that straddle Iraq and Syria.

“The situation in the rest of the Kurdistan Region is calm, but the deployment of the Peshmerga forces to new areas is a new experiment for us,” said Peshmerga spokesman Halgurd Hikmat. “It will take some time before we can stop these attacks against our forces,” he told Rudaw.

Later Monday, another IED targeted Kurdish forces in Rabia, killing three more Peshmerga soldiers and injuring two.

The Kurds, who appear to be emerging as the only winners from the turmoil threatening to drown Iraq, have received other threats from Shiite militias and radical leaders, who have accused them of being behind the unfolding crisis, an allegation Erbil has denied.

Abu Waris Musawi, spokesman of a militia formed during the Syrian crisis to protect sacred Shiite shrines in Iraq and Syria, sent a televised warning to Barzani over the weekend against annexing Kirkuk.

“We have rockets capable of reaching the center of Erbil city,” he said Saturday on al-Anwar TV.

“We do not listen to these threats and the Kurdistan Regional Government has its own strategy for protecting the Kurdistan Region,” said Jabbar Yawar, secretary general of the Peshmerga ministry.

The Asaib Ahl al-Haq militia, the first to respond to calls by Maliki and Iraq’s highest Shiite authorities to take up arms, last week vowed to fight the Kurds as well as the Sunni extremists.

The Kurdistan Region, which has its own government, parliament, army and constitution, remains the only peaceful and economically prospering portion of Iraq.


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KIM | 24/6/2014
3 words: Independence, independence, independence.
AM | 24/6/2014
The problem is that for the USA and some other countries the fake borders of Iraq are more important than the will of the people. They still support the unity of a failed shithole, as if the borders are made by God. But they supported Kosovo and south Sudan and also support Palestine as the 100 arab state but not one Kurdish state. So I will also support the takeover of USA by mexicans.
Muraz Adzhoev | 24/6/2014
"Kurdish support will be key to hold" a stable and "inclusive dictatorship" in Iraq, and this is exactly what the U.S. Administration has in its wishful mind. "The support (to strengthen the Baghdad government) will be intense and sustained and if Iraq's leaders take the necessary steps to bring the country (already crushed and dead) together, it will be effective (useless)", Kerry told reporters. But what for and why, Mr.Kerry, could you explain the main purpose of the current U.S. policy, implemented by extremely incompetent team of the State Department? Mr. Kerry, perhaps, is not aware, that the authorities of "The Kurdistan Region, which has its own government, parliament, army and constitution" should serve and follow first of all the sovereign political will of the people of Southern Kurdistan and is obliged to do everything necessary and required to protect peace, democracy, economic prosperity in order to create its own independent, free and secular republic for all the citizens of Southern Kurdistan, a new Kurdistan's statehood based on historical foundation and ethnocultural rod of the Kurdish nation, together and in full respect with all other native peoples' minority communities. The U.S. administration has to and would better choose, Mr. Kerry, constructive and overwhelming support of the peaceful and just struggle of the sovereign people of Southern Kurdistan. Ask the Americans what do they consider to be better for the U.S., in connection with the question concerning the rights and the future of the Kurdish people, before you come to Iraq and Kurdistan to discuss president Obama's "recommended" instructions. Start to be much more realistic, adequate, efficient, honest and constructive with the Kurdish people - the one among a few real friends and reliable partners of the people of USA in the Middle East.
WilliamWilliams | 24/6/2014
Kerry represents the eastern liberal wing of his class that still worships the decisions of the French and British colonial governments of one hundred years ago instead of democracy for their colonial peoples. The Kurds should take everything north of the river and provide its minorities the rights and benefits and participation just as they had to seize for themselves.
Schkak | 24/6/2014
We have finally reached the point of no return.President Barzani has to tell Kerry one thing: Nothing less Independence for kurdistan.Kerry has promised Baghdad with sustained and intensive help to uphold the unity of iraq;then what does he expect from us actually by his visit to Hewler?.To help revive Iraq which gassed the Kurds and enslaved them ?.-Any surrender of our leaders to the bullying of Kerry will amount to TREASON.Forty million of valiant Kurds are watching.We must honor the memory of our martyrs and declare the Kurdish independence for which they died.Fear of war?,when we are constantly in such a state since our country was partitioned and our people enslaved.Free Kurdistan.

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