June 23 -- U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has begun talks in Baghdad with embattled Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki.
Kerry arrived in the Iraqi capital on June 23, nearly two weeks after militants led by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) staged a surprise offensive that saw the Al-Qaeda splinter group sweep from the Syrian border into large areas of western and northern Iraq.
Kerry is expected to press the leadership in Baghdad to form a more inclusive government, but officials in Washington said he will not call for Maliki to resign.
Speaking in Cairo on June 22, Kerry said Washington wanted the Iraqi people to find leadership that is prepared to represent all Iraqis.
Iraq's government is dominated by members of the country's Shi'ite majority and many Sunni Muslims in the country complain of being marginalized.
Kerry's visit comes as ISIL militants continue to consolidate their gains in Iraq.
ISIL now controls three of the border crossings into Iraq from Syria and Jordan and maintains control over the city of Tal Afar and its airport.
Iraqi government forces will need use of the Tal Afar airport if they are to launch an offensive to drive ISIL militants out of the city of Mosul, one of the first major cities -- along with Tikrit -- to fall to ISIL earlier this month.
Iraqis Fleeing ISIL Fighting Find Refuge In Kurdistani
June 23, 2014
More than half a million Iraqis have fled their homes as militants from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) advanced to the capital, Baghdad. Civilians from Mosul sought shelter in hastily erected refugee camps in Iraq's Kurdistan region. (Reuters)
ISIL's advance has slowed but it has also polarized Iraq along sectarian lines.
On June 21, Shi'ite militias loyal to firebrand cleric Muqtada al-Sadr paraded through towns and cities in Iraq in a show of defiance against ISIL militants.
Iran has also come out in support of the Iraqi government and officials in Tehran have vowed not to allow ISIL to capture Shi'ite holy sites in Iraq.
Iran has already sent military advisers to Iraq to prop up government forces.
On June 22, Iranian President Hassan Rohani warned Arab Sunni governments suspected of supporting ISIL not to believe "these wild terrorists who you directed toward others [will not harm you]."
Rohani said, "Tomorrow will be your turn."
The appearance of ISIL in Iraq has prompted Tehran and Washington to open a dialogue, as neither wants Iraq to fall to the extremist ISIL, who are blamed for carrying out hundreds of summary executions in Iraq.
With reporting by Reuters, AP, and AFP
Copyright (c) 2011. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036. www.rferl.org
Original headline: Kerry Arrives In Baghdad For Urgent Talks
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