visits Iraq, showing support for embattled PM
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[April 08, 2016]
By Arshad Mohammed
BAGHDAD (Reuters) - U.S. Secretary of
State John Kerry visited Iraq on Friday to show support for its prime
minister who is grappling with a political crisis, a collapsing economy
and a fight to retake ground from Islamic State militants.
Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi last week unsettled Iraq's
political elite with a proposed cabinet reshuffle that aims to curb
entrenched corruption by replacing long-time politicians with
technocrats and academics.
His aim is to free Iraqi ministries from the grip of a political
class that has used the system of ethnic and sectarian quotas
instituted after the U.S.-led invasion in 2003 to amass wealth and
U.S. officials fear the political unrest may harm Iraq's efforts to
retake territory it has lost to Islamic State militants, notably its
second city of Mosul, seized when parts of the Iraqi army collapsed
"This is obviously a very critical time here in Iraq," Kerry said as
he began a meeting with Foreign Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari at his
villa in Baghdad's heavily protected Green Zone which houses
embassies and government buildings.
He later met with Abadi, who ignored a U.S. reporter's shouted
question about whether he wanted Washington to deploy more troops to
Iraq. The United States, which withdrew its forces from Iraq in
2011, has redeployed several thousand troops as part of a coalition
it is leading against Islamic State.
Announcing Kerry's visit, U.S. State Department spokesman John Kirby
said the trip "will underscore our strong support for the Iraqi
government as it addresses significant security, economic and
In the past two weeks, Iraqi forces backed by U.S.-led coalition air
strikes have retaken significant parts of Hit, a town 130 km (80
miles) northwest of Baghdad.
However, an offensive billed as the first phase of a campaign to
recapture the northern city of Mosul has been put on hold until
reinforcements arrive to hold ground, the commander of the operation
said on Wednesday.
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"The political wrangling in Iraq - it's certainly an issue that
concerns us," a senior U.S. official in Washington told reporters
earlier this week before Kerry flew to Iraq aboard a U.S. military
Kerry plans to "encourage the Iraqis, while they're dealing with the
cabinet reshuffle, not to lose sight of the need to stay focused on
the fight against" Islamic State, he said, stressing the need "to
plan steadily and carefully" to retake Mosul.
Baghdad is also hamstrung by the plunge in global oil prices that
has shriveled its main source of revenue.
On Thursday, officials from the International Monetary Fund and the
government said the oil price forecast in the 2016 budget would be
cut to about $32 a barrel from $45, widening Iraq's fiscal deficit
by several billion dollars.
Kerry also plans talks with the head of the Kurdistan Regional
Government, Nechirvan Barzani, the State Department said.
(Additional reporting by Maher Chmaytelli and Stephen Kalin; Editing
by Janet Lawrence)
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