Last updated: 13 June, 2014

Kerry calls for Iraqi political unity against jihadists

US Secretary of State John Kerry on Friday urged Iraq’s political factions to unite against the jihadists bearing down on Baghdad, saying that Washington was aiding the beleaguered government with air surveillance.

Kerry, speaking in London, said the United States was taking steps to help bolster Iraq’s authorities against the militants — but it was up to Iraqi politicians to pull together to prevent their country being overrun by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).

“Make no mistake: this needs to be a real wake-up call for all of Iraq’s political leaders. Now’s the time for Iraq’s leaders to come together and to show unity,” Kerry said.

“Political division fuelled by ethnic or sectarian differences simply cannot be allowed to steal from the Iraqi people what so many have given so much for over the course of these last years,” he said.

Given the gravity of the situation, President Barack Obama would take “timely decisions” about the course of action to take, Kerry added.

He said: “We have already taken some immediate steps, including providing enhanced aerial surveillance support to assist the Iraqis in this fight.”

The United States has been flying unarmed spy drones in Iraq at Baghdad’s request since last year and has stepped up the surveillance effort in recent weeks as the militants have launched offensives, a senior US defence official told AFP.

A US official, who asked to remain anonymous, said Washington is considering several options for offering military assistance to Baghdad, including drone strikes.

Kerry said Iraq faced a “brutal enemy” that poses a threat to US interests, as well as those of its allies in Europe and the Middle East.

“We are laser-focused on dealing with the crisis ahead,” the top US diplomat said.

He said the fight was on for a “pluralistic, tolerant society”.

It was time for Iraqi leaders of “all different stripes” to come together to put the national interest ahead of their own interests.

On Thursday, the Iraqi parliament failed to muster enough lawmakers to vote on a request to call a state of emergency to deal with the offensive from ISIL.

Kerry was speaking at the end of a conference on combating sexual violence in conflict zones co-hosted by Hollywood star Angelina Jolie and British Foreign Secretary William Hague.