US hails Iraq’s new government as a major ‘milestone’

Haider al-Abadi,
Haider al-Abadi

Haider al-Abadi
Haider al-Abadi
The US has hailed the creation of a new government in Iraq as a major milestone and a crucial step towards defeating the militant group, Islamic State (IS).

Secretary of State John Kerry said Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi’s cabinet had the “potential to unite all of Iraq’s diverse communities”.

Posts have been shared between the Shia Arab majority, Sunni Arabs and Kurds.

Mr Kerry is travelling to Saudi Arabia and Jordan this week as part of efforts to build a coalition to confront IS.

The jihadist group has taken control of large swathes of Iraq and Syria and in June declared the creation of a “caliphate”, or Islamic state.

‘Legitimate grievances’
Among the first to telephone Mr Abadi to congratulate him was US President Barack Obama, who hopes the new government can start pulling Iraq back together.

The two leaders “agreed on the importance of having the new government quickly take concrete steps to address the aspirations and legitimate grievances of the Iraqi people”, a White House statement said.

The US had made the approval of a unity government a condition for increased military assistance.

Mr Abadi, a Shia Islamist, named three deputies – Hoshyar Zebari, the Kurdish outgoing foreign minister, Saleh al-Mutlak, a secular Sunni who held the same post in the last government, and Baha Arraji, a Shia Islamist and former MP.

Adel Abdul Mahdi, a Shia former vice-president, was appointed oil minister and former PM Ibrahim Jaafari, also Shia, will be foreign minister. No defence or interior minister was named but Mr Abadi promised to do so within a week.

He vowed to “allow all people in Iraq to participate in liberating the cities and provinces which have been taken over by terrorist groups… and to bring back security and stability”.

The BBC’s Jim Muir in Irbil says the hope is that by including Sunnis, the new administration can win the support of the Sunni population in areas controlled by IS and turn them against the radicals.

Many Sunnis were alienated by the outgoing Shia-dominated government of Nouri Maliki and rebelled against it.

Later, Mr Kerry told reporters in Washington: “Iraq’s leaders must now govern with the same sense of purpose that helped them bring this government together.”

“The defeat of [IS] will be a long-term challenge but Iraq will have the support of the United States and its other friends and allies, as it rises above its differences, strengthens its democratic institutions, meets the needs of its vulnerable citizens, combats terrorism, and unites in its resolve against [IS],” he added.

The state department said Mr Kerry would travel to the Middle East on Tuesday to consult key partners on how to further support the Iraqi government, combat the threat posed by IS, and confront regional security challenges.
US air strikes iraq august september
He was expected to hold talks with the foreign ministers of Iraq, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon and six Gulf Arab states in the Saudi city of Jeddah on Wednesday and Thursday, Arab officials said.

Mr Obama will also unveil his strategy to combat IS on Wednesday.

He has ruled out the possibility of a US ground operation but sanctioned dozens of air strikes against the group in Iraq and reconnaissance flights over Syria.

“Over the course of months, we are going to be able to not just blunt the momentum of [IS],” he said on Sunday. “We are going to systematically degrade their capabilities; we’re going to shrink the territory that they control; and, ultimately, we’re going to defeat them.”

Analysis: Jim Muir, BBC News, Irbil
The Americans are hoping the new government can start pulling Iraq back together, and provide a springboard for a national drive to root out Islamic State militants. That can only work if the Sunni community can be persuaded that that is in their interests.

Mr Obama and Mr Abadi agreed on the need for the new government to address the aspirations and legitimate grievances of the Iraqi people – a clear reference to the Sunnis. Their demands include the release of detainees, an end to bombardment of Sunni areas, and a real share of power in Baghdad.

The task ahead is clearly massive. Among other things, the Iraqi army is in a state of disarray, and much of the recent fighting has been done by Shia militia, strengthening the element of sectarian civil strife that will have to be eliminated if the IS radicals are to be isolated and crushed, without whole communities being destroyed.