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Kerry makes surprise visit to Baghdad as Iraqi confidence in Abadi wanes

By Ed Adamczyk
Kerry makes surprise visit to Baghdad as Iraqi confidence in Abadi wanes
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry (C) arrived in Baghdad Friday, his first visit to Iraq in 18 months, to show support for the government of Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi. Photo courtesy the U.S. State Department

BAGHDAD, April 8 (UPI) -- U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry made a surprise visit to Baghdad on Friday to meet with Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi as Iraqi forces attempt to retake territory from the Islamic State.

State Department spokesman John Kirby said the trip was meant to be a show of support to the government of Abadi as he deals internal problems which include Iraq's near bankruptcy, and economic chaos prompted by falling oil prices, high unemployment, poor public and social services, charges of government corruption and cronyism, long-standing resentments against a government which appeared to squander resources when oil prices were strong, and the new offensive against the Islamic State to free the city of Mosul.

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As he attempts to reorganize his Cabinet to better deal with government corruption, Abadi has faced calls within Iraq to step down. His administration sought a set of sweeping reforms in the summer of 2015, but saw them bogged down by sectarian issues and the conflict with IS -- also identified as Daesh, ISIS and ISIL.

Kerry is scheduled to meet with Abadi, Foreign Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari and Council of Representatives Speaker Saleem al-Jabouri in his first visit to Iraq in 18 months. He will also meet with Nechrivan Barzani, prime minister of the Kurdistan Regional Government, "to express U.S. appreciation for the critical role that the Kurdistan Regional Government has played in the coalition's efforts to defeat Daesh," Kirby said.

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Abadi is also dealing with pressure from Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, whose militia once fought U.S. troops but recently has directed his dissent toward Iraq's internal issues, notably a demand that Abadi replace his political allies in the Cabinet with better-skilled technocrats. Political factions within the government have railed against their lack of involvement in the appointment of new Cabinet members and have slowed the appointment process in Parliament.

Against the backdrop of collapsing confidence in Abadi's administration, a military campaign to take Mosul back from IS is gathering momentum. The Iraqi army has retaken about 40 percent of territory held by IS, including the cities of Ramadi and Tikrit, but Mosul, Iraq's second-largest city and 85 miles from Baghdad, remains in IS hands.

Mosul's Turkish consulate, occupied by IS forces, was destroyed in U.S.-led airstrikes earlier this week, and Kurdish Peshmerga forces, which have retaken surrounding towns, have expressed willingness to involve themselves in the fight for Mosul. Residents are fleeing the city as the offensive mounts, and earlier this week the Pentagon said it could increase the number of fire support bases surrounding the city, which support the Iraqi army offensive with artillery fire.

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The Pentagon expressed an interest in seeing Mosul recaptured before the end of the year.

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