JERUSALEM (AP) — U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said Sunday that the United States will support Iraq's fight against al-Qaida-linked militants who have overrun two cities, but won't send in American troops.
Kerry said the militants are trying to destabilize the region and undermine a democratic process in Iraq, and that the U.S. is in contact with tribal leaders in Anbar province who are standing up to the terrorists.
But, he said, "this is a fight that belongs to the Iraqis. That is exactly what the president and the world decided some time ago when we left Iraq, so we are not obviously contemplating returning. We are not contemplating putting boots on the ground. This is their fight. ... We will help them in their fight, but this fight, in the end, they will have to win and I am confident they can."
Al-Qaida linked gunmen have largely taken over the cities of Fallujah and Ramadi in an uprising that has been a blow to the Shiite-led government of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. Bombings in the Iraqi capital, Baghdad, killed at least 20 people Sunday.
Anbar, a vast desert area on the borders with Syria and Jordan, was the heartland of the Sunni insurgency that rose up against American troops and the Iraqi government after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein.
In 2004, insurgents in Fallujah killed four American security contractors, hanging their burned bodies from a bridge. Ramadi and other cities have remained battlegrounds as sectarian bloodshed has mounted, with Shiite militias killing Sunnis.
"We are very, very concerned about the efforts of al-Qaida and the Islamic State of Iraq in the Levant, which is affiliated with al-Qaida, who are trying to assert their authority not just in Iraq, but in Syria," Kerry said.
"These are the most dangerous players in that region. Their barbarism against the civilians in Ramadi and Fallujah and against Iraqi security forces is on display for everyone in the world to see."
Kerry made the comments as he left Jerusalem for talks with leaders in Jordan and Saudi Arabia about his Mideast peace-making efforts after three days of lengthy meetings with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Kerry said some progress was made in what he described as "very serious, very intensive conversations," but key hurdles are yet to be overcome.
His talks with Jordan's King Abdullah II and Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh covered the peace process, Syria and Iraq.
After his short stay in Amman, Kerry flew to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, and then took a 30-minute helicopter ride to King Abdullah's desert palace.
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