By Justin Sink - 06/23/14 06:31 AM EDT
Secretary of State John Kerry arrived in Baghdad on Monday looking to rally political leaders within the country to unite against extremist fighters who have seized large swaths of the nation’s northern regions.
An al-Qaeda affiliated terror group known as The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria has captured cities, military bases, border crossings and oil refineries in northern Iraq. The Sunni militant group’s gains have been partially enabled by widespread frustration with Maliki, who has excluded moderate Sunni leaders from the government and military.
“Following on President Obama's announcement last week, [Kerry] will discuss U.S. actions underway to assist Iraq as it confronts this threat from ISIL [Islamic State of Iraq in the Levant] and urge Iraqi leaders to move forward as quickly as possible with its government formation process to forge a government that represents the interests of all Iraqis,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said.
In Cairo on Sunday, Kerry said it was “a critical moment where, together, we must urge Iraq's leaders to rise above sectarian motivations and form a government that is united in its determination to meet the needs and speak to the demands of all of their people.”
"No country is safe from that kind of spread of terror, and none of us can afford to leave that entity with a safe haven, which would become a base for terror against anyone and all, not only in the region but outside of the region as well," Kerry said.
During an interview with MSNBC on Friday, Obama warned that the “forces that could keep the country united are weaker.”
“It is ultimately going to be up to the Iraqi leadership to try to pull the politics of the country back together again,” Obama said.
Last week, the president announced he was sending 300 military advisers to the country to help bolster government security forces. But the president stopped short of ordering targeted air strikes against the Sunni extremists, instead saying a more measured approach was needed as Iraqi political leaders sought a solution.