presses Maliki as Iraq loses control of Syrian, Jordanian borders
Send a link to a friend
[June 23, 2014]
By Lesley Wroughton and Ahmed Rasheed
BAGHDAD (Reuters) - U.S. Secretary of
State John Kerry met Iraq's prime minister in Baghdad on Monday to push
for a more inclusive government, even as Baghdad's forces abandoned the
border with Jordan, leaving the entire Western frontier outside
Sunni tribes took the Turaibil border crossing, the only legal
crossing point between Iraq and Jordan, after Iraqi security forces
fled, Iraqi and Jordanian security sources said.
The tribes were negotiating to hand the post over to insurgents from
the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant who took control of two
main crossings with Syria over the weekend.
Kurdish forces control a third border post with Syria in the north,
leaving central government troops with no presence along the entire
Western frontier which includes some of the most important east-west
trade routes in the Middle East.
For the insurgents, capturing the frontier is a dramatic step
towards the goal of erasing the modern border altogether and
building a caliphate across swathes of Syria and Iraq.
Washington, which withdrew its troops from Iraq in 2011 after an
occupation that followed the 2003 invasion that toppled dictator
Saddam Hussein, has been struggling to help Iraq contain a Sunni
insurgency led by ISIL, an al Qaeda offshoot which seized northern
towns this month.
U.S. President Barack Obama agreed last week to send up to 300
special forces troops as advisers, but has held off from providing
air strikes and ruled out redeploying ground troops.
Washington is worried that Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's
Shi'ite-led government has worsened the insurgency by alienating
moderate Sunnis who once fought al Qaeda but have now joined the
ISIL revolt. While Washington has been careful not to say publicly
it wants Maliki to relinquish power, Iraqi officials say such a
message has been delivered behind the scenes.
There was little small talk when Kerry met Maliki, the two men
seated in chairs in a room with other officials. At one point Kerry
looked at an Iraqi official and said, "How are you?"
The meeting lasted one hour and 40 minutes, after which Kerry was
escorted to his car by Iraq's Foreign Minister Hoshiyar Zebari. As
Kerry got in, he said: "That was good."
Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on Sunday accused
Washington of trying to regain control of the country it once
occupied - a charge Kerry denied.
Iraqis are due to form a new government after an election in April.
Maliki's list won the most seats in parliament but would still
require allies to win a majority.
Kerry said on Sunday the United States would not choose who rules in
Baghdad, but added that Washington had noted the dissatisfaction
among Kurds, Sunnis and some Shi'ites with Maliki's leadership. He
emphasised that the United States wanted Iraqis to "find a
leadership that was prepared to be inclusive and share power".
Senior Iraqi politicians, including at least one member of Maliki's
own ruling list, have told Reuters that the message that Washington
would be open to Maliki leaving power has been delivered in
diplomatic language to Iraqi leaders.
Recent meetings between Maliki and American officials have been
described as tense. According to a Western diplomat briefed on the
conversations by someone attending the meetings, U.S. diplomats have
informed Maliki he should accept leaving if he cannot gather a
majority in parliament for a third term. U.S. officials have
contested that such a message was delivered.
[to top of second column]
A close ally of Maliki has described him as having grown bitter
toward the Americans in recent days over their failure to provide
strong military support.
Jordanian army sources said Jordan's troops had been put in a state
of alert in recent days along the 181-km (112-mile) border with
Iraq, redeploying in some areas as part of steps to ward off "any
potential or perceived security threats".
The Jordan border post was in the hands of Sunni tribesmen. An Iraqi
tribal figure said there was a chance it would soon be passed to
control of the militants, who seized the nearby crossing to Syria on
the Damascus-Baghdad highway on Sunday.
He said he was mediating with ISIL in a "bid to spare blood and make
things safer for the employees of the crossing. We are receiving
positive messages from the militants."
The need to battle the Sunni insurgency has put the United States on
the same side as its enemy of 35 years, Iran, which has close ties
to the Shi'ite parties that came to power in Baghdad after U.S.
forces toppled Saddam.
However, Iran's Supreme Leader Khamenei made clear on Sunday that a
rapprochement would not be easy.
"We are strongly opposed to U.S. and other intervention in Iraq,"
IRNA news agency quoted Khamenei as saying. "We don’t approve of it
as we believe the Iraqi government, nation and religious authorities
are capable of ending the sedition."
Some Iraqi observers in Baghdad interpreted Khamenei's comments as a
warning to the United States to stay out of the process of selecting
any successor to Maliki.
Baghdad is Kerry's third stop in a tour of Middle East capitals to
emphasise the threat the insurgency poses to the region and call on
Iraq’s allies to use their influence to press Baghdad to govern more
inclusively. He has also been warning Iraq’s neighbours they need to
step up efforts to cut off cross-border funding to the militants.
(Additional by Suleiman al-Khalidi in Amman; Writing by Oliver
Holmes; Editing by Peter Graff)
[© 2014 Thomson Reuters. All rights
Copyright 2014 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published,
broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.