Kerry in Iraq to meet leaders, discuss IS fight

Baghdad—US Secretary of State John Kerry made an unannounced stop in Baghdad on Friday to meet Iraq’s prime minister and other top officials at a time of increased military momentum against the ISIS but deep political uncertainty in the unstable country.
Kerry was to speak with Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi as well as Iraq’s foreign minister, top Sunni official and Kurdish regional leader, reinforcing America’s readiness to help tackle Baghdad’s ongoing security, economic and political struggles.
Iraq’s government must “unify and rebuild its country and to reclaim territory that was occupied by Daesh,” Kerry said Thursday in Bahrain, using an Arabic acronym for ISIS. He said Iraq’s neighbors also “need to support the Abadi government in its efforts to stabilize and eventually rebuild the country,” stressing the importance of bringing order to Sunni-majority areas as they become liberated from ISIS control.
Kerry’s trip coincides with military advances. Iraqi forces say they entered the strategically important ISIS-held town of Hit on Thursday, while the Pentagon is considering establishing more small military outposts to provide artillery support and other aid to Iraqi forces readying an assault on Mosul, ISIS’ stronghold in the country. Last month, the US opened the first such base since returning to Iraq in 2014.
But al-Abadi faces challenges of his own, still trying to establish a new Cabinet amid pressure from supporters of a hard-line Shiite cleric who last month staged rallies and a sit-in next to the government headquarters to demand reforms.—AP

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