USA Today -- Secretary of State John Kerry met with Iraq's leaders Monday in Baghdad, where he became the highest ranking U.S. official to visit Iraq since an insurgency has threatened to plunge the nation into civil war.
Kerry provided few details about his bid to press those leaders to adopt a power-sharing arrangement. The closed-door meetings with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, a Shiite, and top Sunni and Kurdish leaders took place as Sunni insurgents, led by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, continued to gain ground and strength.
"This is a critical moment for Iraq's future," U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said after the meetings. "It is a moment of decision for Iraq's leaders and it's a moment of great urgency."
Kerry revealed few details, but said all the leaders agreed to seat a new parliament by July 1 as the constitution requires.
"The very future of Iraq depends on choices that will be made in the next days and weeks, and the future of Iraq depends primarily on the ability of Iraq's leaders to come together and take a stand united against ISIL," Kerry said. "Not next week, not next month, but now."
Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari, a Kurd, issued a statement citing "deep and detailed talks with Kerry and the delegation accompanying him about the political and security situation in the country as well as regional and international developments on the crisis."
Zebari said Kerry stressed that he went to Baghdad to "show support and sustain of the United States to Iraq and its people over the terrorist and armed attacks."
Iraqinews.com reported that the meeting with al-Maliki lasted one hour and 40 minutes, and that Kerry was escorted to his car by Iraq Foreign Minister Hoshiyar Zebari — a Kurd. The website quoted Kerry, as he was leaving, saying, "That was good."
A senior U.S. State Department official, speaking on background before the talks, said election results certified last week should provide al-Maliki and the other leaders an opportunity to form a more inclusive government.
Kerry, a day earlier in Cairo, called on Iraq's leaders to "rise above sectarian motivations and form a government that is united in its determination to meet the needs and speak to the demands of all of their people."
The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant — known as ISIL or ISIS — captured more territory, including a key Syrian border crossing, over the weekend. The al-Qaeda splinter group wants to create an Islamic state spanning Syria and Iraq. The Syrian crossing is particularly problematic as it will allow easier transport of fighters, weaponry and equipment in and out of Syria.
Prime Minister al-Maliki's Shiite-dominated government is under pressure now to be more inclusive of Sunnis, who have long complained of being disadvantaged in the country. Even so, thousands of volunteers and recruits marched in the capital and other Shiite-dominated cities over the weekend in a show of force intended to boost morale but made minority groups even more nervous.
Kerry's arrival in Iraq comes as the White House continues to keep to its stated line that it will not recommit U.S. troops to the country on a large scale.
Speaking about ISIL on Sunday, President Obama said: "What we can't do is think that we're just going to play whack-a-mole and send U.S. troops occupying various countries wherever these organizations pop up. We're going to have to have a more focused, more targeted strategy."