BAGHDAD, June 23 (UPI) -- U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry arrived in Baghdad on Monday to conduct diplomatic outreach to Iraqi leaders in line with President Barack Obama's five-part response to the Iraqi crisis.
Obama announced in a televised address on June 19 that "the U.S. will take diplomatic efforts to work with Iraqi leaders and leaders in the region to support stability in Iraq," reminding regional leaders that a sovereign and stable Iraq is in everyone's best interest.
While in Baghdad, Kerry is expected to meet with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari, Ammar Hakim, head of a Shia party called the Islamic Supreme Council in Iraq, and Deputy Prime Minister Salih Mutlaq, whose Sunni-dominated bloc won a number of seats in the most recent election.
A senior State Department official, speaking on background, elaborated on Kerry's mission in Iraq. The U.S. is urging Iraq to pursue a two-track approach to the crisis, militarily and politically: fight the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS -- also referred to as ISIL), and form an inclusive new government in line with Iraq's constitutional mandates.
The official noted that in conversations with Sunni leaders, "A lot of them say -- a lot of them keep saying, 'Well be stronger if there's a new prime minister.' Our answer to that is, 'Look, you've got to pursue this in parallel. Political change comes through the government formation process, but it is not really responsible to let ISIL take over half the country, because once they do that you're not going to be able to fight back.'"
Kerry will engage in "person-to-person diplomacy with the key leaders and the key blocs as they work towards forming a new government along the constitutional timeline that they're on." The secretary of state will refrain from showing support to specific candidates for the roles of prime minister, speaker, or other leadership position, the official added.
"... our message is we can't figure this out for you. Because I guarantee you, if we said Mr. X should be speaker, there would then be Mr. Y and Mr. Z who would say, 'Ah, The Americans are trying to interfere.' ... so our message is there's urgency. There's now a timeline. You guys really need to figure this out. If you want us to help be a neutral broker between you and somebody else, ... we can do that ..."
The secretary of state has also been actively engaging regional leaders. Sunday's seizure of western border crossings by ISIS poses a significant threat not only to Iraq's internal stability but also to neighboring countries.
"They took a small town called Rutba, and that is where the regional significance of this problem really comes into play and why the Secretary's visit is so important both here and in the region. Rutba has this open highway to Jordan and to Saudi Arabia. So, I mean, this is a threat to everybody in the region, and it's one reason why the Secretary in particular has been on the phone constantly emphasizing the regional nature of this threat and the need for a real collective focus and response."
As Kerry meets with Iraqi leaders on Monday, the State Department official reiterated that his key message to Baghdad will be: "Look, we're going to help. And it's also, though, incumbent upon you to try to take advantage of this moment, given where you are in the constitutional process to reset some foundation to pull the country together, recognizing how difficult that is."