Islamist militants linked to al Qaeda and tribal fighters have
taken control of Ramadi and Falluja, the main cities in the Sunni
Muslim-dominated province of Anbar, which adjoins Syria, in a
serious challenge to the Shi'ite-led government's authority.
Iraqi troops and allied tribesmen are trying to retake the province.
Speaking to reporters in Jerusalem, Kerry said the United States was
concerned about events in Anbar, which was the heart of the
anti-U.S. rebellion after the United States' invasion of Iraq in
While pledging to help Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's
government, he made clear there was no question of U.S. troops
returning to Iraq. The United States withdrew its troops from Iraq
in 2011 after failing to reach agreement with Maliki's government on
a continuing presence.
"This is a fight that belongs to the Iraqis," he said. "We're not
contemplating putting boots on the ground. This is their fight, but
we're going to help them in their fight."
Kerry declined to provide details on what the United States might do
to assist Maliki, whom Washington has repeatedly urged to share
power with the Sunni minority — in part to prevent a renewed Sunni
insurgency against the central government.
Al Qaeda's Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) has been
steadily tightening its grip in the desert province in recent months
in a bid to create a Sunni Muslim state straddling the Syrian
This week's seizure of territory in Ramadi and Falluja
was the first time in years that Sunni insurgents had taken
effective control of the region's most important cities and held
their positions for days.
[to top of second column]
Kerry said the violence had regional implications.
"This is a fight that is bigger than just Iraq ... The fighting in
Syria is part of what is unleashing this instability in the rest of
the region," he added.
"We can't want peace and we can't want democracy and we can't want
an orderly government and stability more than the people in a
particular area, in a particular country or a particular region," he
said. "This fight, in the end, they will have to win, and I am
confident they can."
The Iraqi military's cooperation with tribesmen against al Qaeda
echoes a decision by local tribes in 2006 to work with U.S. troops
to fight al Qaeda forces who had taken control of most of Iraq's
Sunni areas after the U.S. invasion.
U.S. troops and local tribes finally beat back al Qaeda in heavy
fighting after a "surge" of U.S. forces in 2006-07.
(Reporting by Arshad Mohammed, writing by Ari Rabinovitch,
by Jeffrey Heller)
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