US asks Persian Gulf states for assistance on Iraq crisis

US asks Persian Gulf states for assistance on Iraq crisis
Fri Jun 27, 2014 08:29:21

The United States has urged Saudi Arabia, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates to do what they can to encourage Iraq to form an inclusive government to tackle ISIL terrorists threatening to tear apart the country.

The diplomatic push came as Iraqi forces battled to retake Tikrit, Saddam Hussein’s hometown, from the so-called Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) terrorists.

In a frenetic round of meetings in Paris, Secretary of State John Kerry briefed his counterparts about US intelligence gathering on potential targets in Iraq aimed at beating back the insurgency, according to senior State Department officials.

He made clear that Washington had not made a decision on whether to launch airstrikes, “but reserves the right to do so,” the officials told reporters, adding that none of the countries offered military assistance.

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has long had chilly relations with Persian Gulf states, which view him as too close to Iran.

“We share concerns, and we are as focused as they are on making sure the next Iraqi government is inclusive and is formed in the near future,” a US official said. “While there is no silver lining in a process like that, we do hope it infuses a sense of urgency into the process.”

Amid the possibility of airstrikes, Kerry briefed the ministers on his recent talks with Maliki, in which he urged him to form an inclusive government bridging sectarian splits that have been exploited by extremist militants. “The move of ISIL concerns every single country here,” Kerry told reporters.

Iraq’s vice president called on parliament Thursday to convene next week, taking the first step toward forming a new government to present a united front against a rapidly advancing ISIL insurgency.

Maliki’s political bloc won the most seats in April 30 elections – 92 seats out of the 328 – but he needs support from other parties for a majority that would give him the right to govern.

Compounding the pressure on Maliki, Iraq’s powerful Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr made a televised statement late Wednesday in which he called for a national unity government of “new faces” representing all groups.

Sadr also vowed to “shake the ground” under the feet of the Al-Qaeda breakaway group that has threatened to advance toward Baghdad and Shia holy cities in the south.

Iraqi forces launched an airborne assault on rebel-held Tikrit with commandos flown into a stadium in helicopters, at least one of which crashed after taking fire from insurgents.

Eyewitnesses said battles were raging in the city, which fell to ISIL militants two weeks ago.

The helicopters were shot at as they flew low over the city and landed in a stadium at the city’s university, a security source at the scene said.

In an interview with the BBC, Maliki said the Syrian air force had carried out strikes against militants on the Syrian side of the Al-Qaim border crossing, controlled by ISIL.

The premier said Baghdad had not requested the Syrian strikes, but he “welcomed” any such move against the ISIS-led militants.

Shortly before sunset, a bomb exploded near a clothing shop in Baghdad’s northern Shia neighborhood of Khazimiyah, killing 12 people and wounding 32, said police and hospital officials.

BA/BA

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