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article imageIs Kerry trip last chance to save Iraq from advancing Islamists?

By Nathan Salant     Jun 23, 2014 in World
Baghdad - With Sunni militants approaching Baghdad in their drive to wrest Iraq, or large portions of it, from the US-backed government, Secretary of State John Kerry arrived in the capital Monday for what could be last-chance talks to save the pro-Western regime.
Kerry met with Iraq's prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, and parliament speaker, Osama al-Nujayfi, upon his arrival in an effort to find a way to keep Iraq from disintegrating along ethnic and religious lines.
Al-Maliki's Shiite-dominated government has come under substantial criticism for failing to sufficiently involve Sunni Moslems, who ruled Iraq for decades under Saddam Hussein, according to Cable News Network (CNN).
Hussein was deposed by the 2003 US invasion and later executed by Iraq's next government.
The Sunni militancy in northern Iraq, led by the radical Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, has been surprisingly successful in the past few weeks, as the group's fighters have seized control of major population centers such as Mosul and Tikrit in the face of only token opposition from the country's US-trained and equipped military.
Al-Maliki is being blamed for underestimating the Sunnis' sense of disenfranchisement and overestimating the ability of his army to maintain control of restive regions of the county, and calls for his resignation have become louder.
"I'm here to convey to you President Obama's and the American people's commitment to help Iraq," Kerry said while being greeted by al-Nujayfi, CNN said.
"The principal concern is the integrity of the country, its borders, its sovereignty -- ISIS "is a threat to all of us," Kerry said.
Kerry also plans to meet with Iraq's foreign minister and with leaders of the country's Shiite and Sunni factions, CNN said.
A State Department offficial told CNN that Kerry's trip was planned to emphasize "our highest-level commitment to Iraq during this time of crisis."
Al-Malaki's office issued a statement saying he told Kerry that the deteriorating situation in northern Iraq "poses a threat" to the entire region.
Al-Malaki also warned "countries of the world, especially countries in the region, to take it seriously," the statement said.
US President Barack Obama warned Sunday that help was coming but would be limited.
Hundreds of US military advisers are being dispatched to assist Iraqi forces, but the country should not expect much more help than that.
"Part of the task now is to see whether Iraqi leaders are prepared to rise above sectarian motivations, come together, compromise," Obama told CNN.
"If they can't, there's not going to be a military solution to this problem -- there's no amount of American firepower that's going to be able to hold the country together, and I've made that very clear to Mr. Maliki and all the other leadership inside of Iraq," Obama said.
Violence on the ground continued Monday despite the high-level diplomacy in Baghdad, CNN said.
Dozens of prisoners and five police officers were killed Monday in Hilla when militants attacked a convoy transferring inmates between prisons.
Five militants also were killed, but their affiliation could not be confirmed, CNN said.
Iraq has accused ISIS of carrying out massacres against soldiers during the recent fighting, which apparently is part of the ISIS effort to declare an Islamic state in Sunni portions of Iraq and Syria.
"Hundreds of Iraqi soldiers have been beheaded and hung and their bodies have been desecrated," Iraq's military spokesman, Maj. Gen. Qassim Atta, told CNN.
"Why has the U.N. not decried these atrocious crimes, which are among the biggest crimes against humanity," Atta said.
Militants have control over most of Anbar province, including the Tal Afar airbase and the town of Rutba, CNN said.
ISIS also reportedly has imposed Sharia law on residents of Mosul, Iraq's second-largest city, which fell to the militants earlier this month, CNN said.
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