By Rebecca Shabad - 06/24/14 07:25 AM EDT
Secretary of State John Kerry said Tuesday that Kurdish forces have been crucial in slowing the expansion of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
“In recent days, the security cooperation between the forces here in the Kurdish area have been really critical to helping to draw a line with respect to ISIL [Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant] and provide support to Iraqi security forces,” Kerry said at the beginning of a meeting with Kurdish President Masoud Barzani.
ISIS, also known as ISIL, is a group of Sunni militants trying to create an Islamic state in Iraq, Syria and beyond.
"We are facing a new reality and a new Iraq," said Barzani, who had earlier blamed Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s “wrong polices” for the violence that has erupted. Barzani said it is “very difficult” to imagine Iraq staying together, according to Reuters.
State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Kerry met with other senior officials in Irbil. The Kurds represent about 20 percent of Iraq’s population.
In a brief interview on CNN’s “New Day” Tuesday, Kerry said Barzani opposes al-Maliki, but he said Barzani “made it clear he wants to participate in the process” to choose Iraq’s next government.
Kerry’s meetings in Irbil come a day after he flew to Baghdad on an emergency trip to try to resolve the situation diplomatically. In Iraq’s capital, Kerry met with al-Maliki, who Kerry said has committed to starting the process to form a new government by July 1.
Kerry made it clear that the U.S. still has the authority to launch airstrikes against ISIS if political reforms don’t develop soon.
U.S. special forces, meanwhile, are beginning to arrive in Baghdad as they set out to assist Iraqi security forces in their efforts to root out ISIS.