U.S. puts onus for peace on Iraqis; Obama to brief lawmakers

by Reuters
Tuesday, 17 June 2014 22:18 GMT

WASHINGTON, June 17 (Reuters) - The United States put the onus on Iraqis to defeat a Sunni insurgency on Tuesday as President Barack Obama prepared to meet leaders of the U.S. Congress to discuss the onslaught in Iraq.

"There is no outside country, not the United States, not any country, that can solve the challenges that the people of Iraq are facing. It needs to be the government that takes steps," State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters.

The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), an al Qaeda splinter group waging sectarian war on both sides of the Iraq-Syria border, last week seized Mosul, Iraq's second-largest city, and has swept through the Tigris river valley north of Baghdad.

The United States, which withdrew its troops from Iraq in 2011, has said it will help Iraq against the insurgents. It has also demanded that the Shi'ite prime minister, Nuri al-Maliki, govern in a more inclusive manner after years in which he has been accused of marginalizing Sunni and Kurdish minorities.

It said on Tuesday it was open to further talks with Iran about stabilizing Iraq, following a brief discussion of the matter on Monday. Two U.S. officials said Washington hopes to open up a channel for the United States and Iran to discuss Iraq in Baghdad, much as they did in the mid-2000s.

Vice President Joe Biden echoed the State Department message on the importance of Iraq's government behaving in a non-sectarian manner on Tuesday and placed the burden of responsibility on the Iraqis to defeat the insurgency.

Speaking in Brasilia, Biden said the United States would provide assistance to Iraq's security forces but that Iraqis must pull together to fight the "vicious" insurgency that threatens to break up the country.

"Urgent assistance is clearly required," Biden said.

"The bottom line here is that Iraqis have to pull together to defeat this enemy," he said, adding that would require setting aside sectarianism, building an inclusive security force and ensuring that voices of all communities in Iraq are heard.

Western countries, including the United States, have urged Maliki to reach out to Sunnis to rebuild national unity as the only way of preventing the disintegration of Iraq.

But the prime minister, in power for eight years and winner of a parliamentary election two months ago, seems to be moving in the other direction, relying more heavily on his majority sect and vowing to purge opposition politicians and military officers he has called traitors."

President Barack Obama has invited leaders of the Senate and House of Representatives to the White House on Wednesday for a meeting on Iraq. There were no immediate indications that Obama was preparing to present congressional leaders with any decision on a plan of action.

A White House official described the meeting as "part of his ongoing consultations with congressional leadership on foreign policy issues, including the situation in Iraq." (Reporting By Arshad Mohammed, Matt Spetalnick and Tricia Zengerle; Editing by David Storey and Gunna Dickson)

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