REUTERS and AP - U.S. Secretary of State John Secretary of State John Kerry said on Monday that U.S. support for Iraqi security forces will be "intense and sustained" to help them combat an Islamist insurgency that has swept through the country's north and west.
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Kerry said that during talks he had with Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki in Baghdad on Wednesday, the Iraqi leader reaffirmed his commitment to a July 1 date for forming a new government.
President Barack Obama offered up to 300 American advisers to help coordinate the fight. But he held off granting a request for air strikes from Maliki's Shi'ite Muslim-led government and renewed a call for Maliki to do more to overcome sectarian divisions that have alienated the Sunni Muslim minority.
"The key today was to get from each of the government leaders a clarity with respect to the road forward in terms of government formation," Kerry said. "Indeed, Prime Minister Maliki firmly and on multiple occasions affirmed his commitment to July 1 (to form the new government)."
Kerry said Obama will not wait before he acts to provide advisers and support for Iraq's military. "The support will be intense and sustained and if Iraq's leaders take the necessary steps to bring the country together, it will be effective.
"It will allow Iraqi security forces to confront ISIS more effectively and in a way that respects Iraq's sovereignty while also respecting America's and the region's vital interests," he said, referring to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria insurgents who have spearheaded the Sunni revolt.
Kerry also applauded the handing over of Syria's chemical weapons to Western governments as a significant step toward diminishing the threat of chemical warfare in the region.
But Kerry, who met with Iraq's top Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish leaders, also warned that the use of chlorine gas is a serious issue.
The final eight percent of the 1,300-ton stockpile, which includes mustard gas and raw materials for making sarin nerve gas, have been loaded onto Danish and Norwegian ships in the Syrian port of Latakia.
Syria's government agreed to surrender its arsenal last fall when the U.S. threatened punitive missile strikes after a deadly chemical attack on a rebel-held suburb of Damascus.