Kerry: Militants can't take Baghdad
By Mario Trujillo - 06/16/14 09:18 AM EDT
Secretary of State John Kerry on Monday said he's confident that Sunni militants will not be able to capture Baghdad.
Kerry told Yahoo News he is "absolutely convinced" the U.S. Embassy in Iraq has the security needed to keep personnel safe as militants aligned with the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) lay siege to a number of cities in the country.
"I don't believe that they will in the near term certainly, and I don't believe they necessarily can at all," Kerry said of the group's ability to take over the capital. "But that remains to be determined by the decisions that are made over the course of the next few days."
The Defense Department has sent additional security forces to secure the Iraqi embassy, while the State Department has evacuated a limited number of people. Kerry said a diplomatic presence remains in Iraq, and that many of the personnel moved out were contractors.
The secretary of State "absolutely, unquestionably" denied that the turmoil in Iraq could have been prevented if the United States had left residual forces in the country after the combat mission ended in 2011. Republican critics of the administration say the U.S. left Iraq too soon.
But Kerry said any security agreement keeping forces in Iraq would have called for troops to only train, advise and assist the Iraqi military, not participate in combat.
He said the conflict is the result of an internal struggle between factions in the country, including the Shiite Muslim government and Sunni groups that have been excluded.
"This is complicated," he said. "And it is not something where any number of forces of the United States would have made the difference or are going to make the difference right now. This is about the internal politics and governance of Iraq."
President Obama is considering a number of options in the country. Kerry said U.S. air strikes could be a possibility to help stop ISIS's march across Iraq.
"No individual, no country — certainly no country in the region — can sit back and allow a terrorist entity to run whole-hog over an election, over a constitutional process, and over people who have chosen a government through a legitimate process and allow them to terrorize it simply because they don't like the outcome or they want something else," he said.
He said air strikes could not be the whole answer. He implored Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and the government to be more inclusive.
Kerry said he does not believe Iranian troops are crossing over the border to Iraq, as has been reported in the press. But he said there has been a mobilization of militias, which has its dangers.
The secretary would not say whether the U.S. would be willing to work with Iran, which is aligned with the Iraqi prime minister, if it commits to a process of more inclusion in the Iraqi government.
"Let's see what Iran might or might not be willing to do before we start making any pronouncements," Kerry said. "I think we are open to any constructive process here that can minimize the violence, hold Iraq together, the integrity of the country and eliminate the presence of outside terrorist forces."