LONDON, June 13 (Reuters) - U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said on Friday he expects President Barack Obama to decide quickly on what steps the U.S. will take to help combat the relentless advance of the Islamist insurgency in Iraq.
"Given the gravity of the situation, I would anticipate timely decisions from the president regarding the challenge," Kerry told reporters at a news conference with British Foreign Secretary William Hague.
"I am confident the US will move rapidly and effectively to join with our allies in dealing with this challenge," Kerry added.
Obama said on Thursday he was considering "all options" to support Iraq's Shi'ite Muslim-dominated central government that took full control when the U.S. occupation ended in 2011, eight years after the 2003 invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein.
Kerry also said Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki should do more to put sectarian differences aside in his country.
"Prime Minister Maliki and all Iraqi leaders need to do more to put sectarian differences aside," Kerry said, alluding to long-standing Western complaints that the Shi'ite Prime Minister has done little to heal sectarian rifts that have left many of Iraq's minority Sunnis, cut out of power since Saddam's demise, aggrieved and keen for revenge. (Reporting By Arshad Mohammed; editing by Stephen Addison)
06/14/2014 1:03 PM EDT
NYT: Baghdad Braces For Siege
The New York Times reports that Baghdad residents are preparing for insurgents to descend on the city, though Iraq's military says they're slowed the rebels' advance:
While some Baghdad residents scrambled to leave, hoarded food or rushed to join auxiliary militias to defend the city, the militants of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria and their allies halted their advance within a two-hour drive to the north, and there was no indication that they were seeking to push into Baghdad proper.
06/14/2014 12:38 PM EDT
U.S. Moves Aircraft Carrier
BREAKING: Pentagon orders aircraft carrier USS George HW Bush to Persian Gulf as President Obama weighs possible airstrikes in Iraq— NBC Nightly News (@NBCNightlyNews) June 14, 2014
06/14/2014 11:27 AM EDT
Iraqis Flock To Volunteer Against Insurgents
From the AP:
Hundreds of young Iraqi men gripped by religious and nationalistic fervor streamed into volunteer centers Saturday across Baghdad, answering a call by the country's top Shiite cleric to join the fight against Sunni militants advancing in the north.
Dozens climbed into the back of army trucks, chanting Shiite slogans and hoisting assault rifles, pledging to join the nation's beleaguered security forces to battle the Sunni group known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, which has launched a lightning advance across the country.
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06/14/2014 11:14 AM EDT
Iraqi Military Says It Has Slowed Islamist Rebels' Advance
A Sunni Islamist offensive threatening to dismember Iraq seemed to slow on Saturday after days of lightning advances as government forces reported regaining territory in counter-attacks, easing pressure on Baghdad's Shi'ite-led government.
As Iraqi officials spoke of wresting back the initiative against Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant insurgents (ISIL), neighboring Shi'ite Iran held out the prospect of working with its longtime U.S. arch-enemy to help restore security in Iraq.
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06/13/2014 3:34 PM EDT
'Early 2006 Again'
Martin Chulov writes from Iraq for the Guardian that this week's fighting has once again exposed the divisions among the country's different groups, as well as the divisive policies of its political leader Nuri al-Maliki.
Iraq has suddenly found itself in early 2006 again, in a week that has seen Sunni insurgents once more face off with Shia militias, a major city looted as an army stands by, and the two shrines whose destruction sparked the sectarian war again endangered. This, though, is a crisis like no other for Iraq, eclipsing even the blood-soaked and hopeless war years that pitched sects against each other and whittled out towns and cities. There is no occupying army to hold the country together this time. After the stunning capitulation at the hands of Sunni insurgents this week, there is barely a military left at all.
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-- Eline Gordts
06/13/2014 3:09 PM EDT
PHOTO: Militants Destroy Iraq-Syria Border
This image posted on a militant news Twitter account on Thursday, June 12, 2014 shows militants from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant removing part of the soil barrier on the Iraq-Syria borders and moving through it. (AP Photo/albaraka_news)
06/13/2014 3:06 PM EDT
ISIS Fighters Accused Of Summary Executions
Human Rights Watch said in a report released on Friday that fighters of ISIS allegedly executed at least 15 civilians in northern Syria.
The executions reportedly took place in the village of al-Taliliya, near Ras al-‘Ayn, on May 29.
“While everyone is focused on ISIS’s advances in Iraq, they’re also committing atrocities in Syria, including gunning down civilians,” said Nadim Houry, deputy Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “ISIS flouts the law, executing civilians at will, while Russia and China paralyze UN Security Council action.”
Read the full announcement here.
-- Eline Gordts
06/13/2014 2:16 PM EDT
Pentagon Can't Confirm Iranian President
The Pentagon said on Friday it cannot confirm reports that members of Iran's Revolutionary Guard are fighting in Iraq. "I've seen the press reporting on that ... but I have nothing to confirm that there are Iranian special forces inside Iraq," spokesman Rear Admiral John Kirby said, according to Reuters.
Reports emerged on Thursday that Iranian special forces were helping Baghdad in fighting Islamist insurgents that have captures several cities in Iraq this week.
-- Eline Gordts
06/13/2014 1:21 PM EDT
UN Warns Of War Crimes
The United Nation warned on Friday war crimes may have possible been committed in Iraq.
U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay warned of "murder of all kinds" and other war crimes in the fast-deteriorating Iraqi war zone.
In a first estimate of the number of killed and wounded in the area, her office said the number of killed may run into the hundreds and the number of wounded could approach 1,000.
Pillay also shed some light on the brutalities occurring in Iraq, saying her office had received reports of militants rounding up and killing Iraqi army soldiers and 17 civilians in a single street in Mosul.
Her office said it has also learned of summary executions, rape, extrajudicial and reprisal killings, and about civilians being shelled as fighters from the al-Qaida-inspired Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant overran a succession of major cities earlier in the week.
Deeply disturbing, she said, are reports that the fighters, including prisoners they had released from jails in Mosul and provided with arms, have been actively seeking out and sometimes killing soldiers, police and others. She said victims also included civilians, who the fighters believe are associated with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's government.
Pillay warned those fighting to abide by international law, which requires human treatment of members of armed forces who have laid down their arms. She also stressed that "murder of all kinds, mutilation, cruel treatment and torture constitute war crimes."
"I am extremely concerned about the acute vulnerability of civilians caught in the cross-fire, or targeted in direct attacks by armed groups, or trapped in areas under the control of ISIL and their allies," Pillay said.
"And I am especially concerned about the risk to vulnerable groups, minorities, women and children," she said. "There will be particular scrutiny of the conduct of ISIL, given their well-documented record of committing grave international crimes in Syria."
Read more here.