US Secretary of State John Kerry says the US will not delay in helping Iraq defeat the Isis insurgency.
John Kerry said on a visit to Iraq that US support for Iraqi security forces will be “intense and sustained” to help them combat an Islamist insurgency by Isis that has swept through the country’s north and west.
President Barack Obama has offered up to 300 American advisers to help coordinate the fight-back, but has stopped short of ordering air strikes following a request from Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki.
Mr Kerry said that during talks, Mr al-Miliki reaffirmed his commitment to form a new government by 1 July.
He said the US will not wait to lend military support, adding it “will be intense and sustained, and if Iraq’s leaders take the necessary steps to bring the country together, it will be effective”.
Mr Kerry’s visit came after Sunni militants took strongholds along the border with Syria at the weekend, strengthening their supply routes.
He said on Sunday the United States would not pick or choose who rules Baghdad. He said, however, Washington had noted the dissatisfaction among Kurds, Sunnis and some Shias with Mr Maliki’s leadership.
A senior State Department official said the US believed the push by the militants toward Baghdad had slowed although the capture of remote border crossings was a serious concern.
“The progress towards Baghdad has definitely slowed,” said the official, who briefed reporters on the situation in Iraq.
“So the threat to Baghdad is not nearly as immediate as there was some concern in those early days about just how far this could go.”
State officials said the rebels took two key crossings in Anbar, a day after seizing one at Qaim, a town in the province that borders Syria. The strategically important airport in the northern town of Tal Afar has also reportedly fallen to the rebels.
Isis thrust east from a newly captured Iraqi-Syrian border post on Sunday, taking three towns in Iraq’s western Anbar province after seizing the frontier crossing near the town of Qaim on Saturday, witnesses and security sources said. They also seized a second border post, al-Waleed.
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The gains have helped Isis secure supply lines to Syria, where it has exploited the chaos of the uprising against Bashar al-Assad to seize territory.
It is considered the most powerful force among armed groups who seized Falluja, just west of Baghdad, and took parts of Anbar’s capital Ramadi at the start of the year.
The fall of Qaim represented another step towards the realisation of Isis’s military goals – erasing a frontier drawn by colonial powers carving up the Ottoman empire a century ago.
An Iraqi military intelligence official said Iraqi troops had withdrawn from Rawa and Ana after Isis militants attacked the settlements late on Saturday. “Troops withdrew from Rawa, Ana and Rutba this morning and Isis moved quickly to completely control these towns,” the official said.
“They took Ana and Rawa this morning without a fight.”
Some Iraqi analysts interpreted his remarks as a warning to the United States not to try to pick its own replacement for Mr Maliki, whom many in the west and Iraq hold responsible for the crisis.
In eight years in power, he has alienated many in the Sunni minority that dominated the country under ousted dictator Saddam Hussein.