BAGHDAD – Warning of the “existential threat” posed by Sunni militants, Secretary of State John Kerry said Monday the U.S. is prepared to take military action even if Baghdad delays political reforms, noting that the risks of letting the insurgency run rampant threaten dangers beyond Iraq's borders.
But he stressed that military action would not be in support of the present Shiite-led government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.
Kerry, during a few hours' visit to Baghdad, urged Iraq's leaders to quickly set aside divisions as the only means of stopping the vicious Sunni insurgency and said Iraq's future depended on choices Iraq's leaders make in the next days and weeks.
“The future of Iraq depends primarily on the ability of Iraq's leaders to come together and take a stand united against ISIL,” Kerry told a news conference, using the acronym for the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, the al-Qaida-breakaway group that has captured huge swathes of Iraqi territory in the north and west.
“Not next week, not next month, but now,” he said. “It is essential that Iraq's leaders form a genuinely inclusive government as rapidly as possible.”
It was a dire warning to leaders of Iraq's bitterly divided Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish communities that came at a time when the Middle Eastern nation was facing its worst crisis since the withdrawal of U.S. forces in late 2011 after eight years in Iraq.
The Sunni fighters have virtually erased Iraq's western border with Syria and have also taken territory on the frontier with Jordan.
Noting the dangers the Sunni militants pose to Iraq and the region, Kerry said the U.S. was prepared to take military action, if necessary, even before a new government is formed.
“That's why, again, I reiterate, the president will not be hampered if he deems it necessary, if the formation is not complete,” he said, referring to Iraqi efforts to form a government that bridges the deep divisions among the majority Shiites and minority Sunnis, Kurds and other groups.
Kerry emphasized, however, that if military action is taken – President Barack Obama has said he is considering airstrikes – “it has nothing to do with support for a specific government.”
“It's not specifically support for the existing prime minister or for one sect or another,” Kerry said. “It will be against ISIL, because ISIL is a terrorist organization, and I think everybody today that we talked to understood the urgency.”