U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry pulled support from Iraq’s Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki today, as several countries prepared to deliver arms to Kurdish fighters amid reports that Islamic State militants had seized a town northeast of Baghdad.
Weapons are being supplied to Kurds from various sources, according to a U.S. official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity and declined to discuss the U.S. role. French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius asked for a meeting of European ministers to discuss arms deliveries.
Kerry said that the U.S. was backing Iraq’s President Fouad Masoum and told Maliki not to hinder the political process, saying he wasn’t even among the three candidates Iraqis wanted as the next prime minister.
“We stand absolutely, squarely behind President” Fouad Masoum, Kerry said in Sydney. “He has the responsibility for upholding the constitution of Iraq, he is the elected president, at this moment Iraq has clearly made a statement that they are looking for change.”
Political haggling in Iraq is hurting government attempts to curb advances by an al-Qaeda breakaway group that ravaged the north of the country and drew U.S. air strikes. U.S. President Barack Obama has said that greater U.S. assistance in pushing back Islamic State forces would only come if a more inclusive government was formed that didn’t marginalize Sunni and other minorities.
While U.S. strikes have slowed Islamic State advances in the north, the group still holds vast swaths of territory in Syria and Iraq, including key installations such as dams, military outposts and Iraq’s biggest northern city.
Kurdish forces on Sunday were able to retake the towns of Makhmour and Gwer, south of Erbil, where militants retreated after U.S. airstrikes, according to the Kurdish news agency Rudaw, citing officials
About 20,000 Yezidi Iraqis who had been trapped in a mountainous region were rescued and taken to an area in Kurdish control, CNN reported, citing Iraqi Ministry of Human Rights spokesman Kamil Amin. Still, the militant group advanced elsewhere and took the town of Jalawla, northeast of Baghdad, Al Arabiya television reported.
The U.S. official who asked not to be named said the U.S., Turkey, Jordan, France, Britain and Gulf states have been discussing how to arm the Kurds, and that some weapons have already been delivered. He wouldn’t give further details.
Pentagon spokesman Rear Admiral John Kirby says the Defense Department is only providing arms to the Kurds through the Iraqi government. He declined to say if other U.S. agencies are providing direct assistance.
Kurdish forces were “surprised” by the sophistication of arms used by Islamic State, Fabius said in interview with France2 television broadcast yesterday from Erbil.
“One way or another, we have to see about how to deliver weapons in a secure way so that they can defend themselves and counter-attack,” Fabius said. “We will see in the days ahead, in liaison with other Europeans.”
Fabius’ office today released a letter Fabius sent the EU’s foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton asking for an emergency meeting of foreign ministers, noting that Kurdistan regional government President Massoud Barzani had asked for weapons and ammunition.
France and Britain delivered humanitarian aid over the weekend.
In Baghdad, Al-Maliki has so far ignored the U.S. pleas to go quietly and overnight deployed troops on the streets of Baghdad, many concentrated around the Green Zone, where government buildings and the U.S. embassy are located, eyewitnesses said. The move came after parliament adjourned without progress on a new prime minister after inconclusive elections in April.
“Among the Shia it is very very evident that they have three candidates or so for prime minister, none of whom are Mr. Maliki,” Kerry said. “So what we urge the people of Iraq to do is to be calm. There should be no use of force, no introduction of troops or militias into this moment of democracy for Iraq.”
Maliki’s show of force came after he defied efforts by lawmakers to pressure him to drop his bid for a third term. There was a heavy presence of security forces stationed outside Masoum’s home, Al Arabiya reported.
Kerry said the government formation process was critical for stability and calm.
Don’t Stir Water
“Our hope is that Mr. Maliki will not stir those waters,” he said. “One thing all Iraqis need to know: there will be little international support of any kind whatsoever for anything that deviates from the legitimate constitutional process that is in place and being worked on now.”
Maliki is facing accusations by Kurdish and Sunni politicians, as well as by some former Shiite allies, that he leads a divisive, sectarian government that has fueled support for the Islamic State.
“Every day that passes strengthens Nouri al-Maliki’s hand,” said Kenneth Pollack, a senior fellow in the Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution in Washington. “His game is to drag things out and demonstrate that nobody else can be prime minister.”