Kerry: Syrian rebels can play role in helping Iraq

Secretary of State John Kerry said Friday that moderate rebel groups in Syria could play a key role in pushing back an Islamist militant group that is seizing territory in neighboring Iraq.

Kerry is in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, to meet with Syrian Opposition Coalition President Ahmad Jarba and Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud separately.  

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“The moderate opposition in Syria ... has the ability to be a very important player in pushing back against (Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant) ISIL's presence,” Kerry said at a meeting at Jeddah airport with Jarba.

“Not just in Syria, but also in Iraq,” he added.

Kerry said that the moderate rebel groups in Syria, fighting against Bashar Assad’s regime, also had close links to Iraq.

"Jarba represents a tribe that reaches right into Iraq,” said Kerry. “He knows the people there, and his point of view and the Syrian opposition's will be very important going forward.”

ISIL, also known as ISIS, is a Sunni militant group that has spilled into Iraq from Syria, capturing major towns and advancing on Baghdad.

Kerry’s comments come just a day after the White House submitted an official request to Congress for $500 million to help train and equip vetted pro-Western Syrian rebels in that country’s civil war.

The CIA has reportedly been in charge of arming the moderate opposition, but if the request is approved, the Pentagon could take over, greatly expanding U.S. assistance.

Abdullah announced Thursday that “all measures” should be taken to protect his country from the ISIS. Saudi Arabia borders most of Iraq’s southern region and Jordan, where many are concerned the militant group could next expand. 

Saudi Arabia has been a prominent backer of the Syrian rebels. The government there also distrusts Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki for his unwillingness to include Sunnis in his Shiite-led government and his ties with Iran. 

A group of the 300 military advisers President Obama dispatched to Iraq arrived in Baghdad earlier this week to assess the capabilities of Iraq’s security forces. 

On Monday, Iraq’s parliament is scheduled to convene a session that will pave the way for a new unity government.