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File Photo Pablo Martinez Monsivais via Press Association Images

John Kerry travels to Middle East to hold anti-IS talks

Saudi has confirmed the Arab anti-IS talks with Kerry for Thursday.

US SECRETARY OF State John Kerry headed to the Middle East today bidding for a broad coalition against Islamic State jihadists, buoyed by the “milestone” of a new Iraqi government.

Kerry’s visit comes on the eve of a keenly awaited speech by President Barack Obama in which he has promised to set out a comprehensive strategy to defeat the jihadists who have seized swathes of Iraq and neighbouring Syria, unleashing atrocities that have shocked the world.

The Iraqi army’s campaign to claw back the territory it lost in the Sunni Arab heartland north and west of Baghdad in June – and US efforts to engage Sunni Muslim governments in the fightback – have been complicated by the sectarian politics of the region.

Saudi Arabia and other Gulf Arab states had deeply strained relations with the Shiite-led government in Baghdad, with each side blaming the other for the advance of the jihadists.

But after months of wrangling, Iraq’s new Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi finally formed a government on Monday that Washington said had “the potential to unite all of Iraq’s diverse communities.”

Kerry described the new government as a “major milestone” in efforts to woo the Sunni Arab minority away from IS after the divisive rule of Abadi’s predecessor Nuri al-Maliki.

After a stopover in US ally Jordan, Kerry is to travel on to Saudi Arabia for two days of talks with Arab foreign ministers on tackling the IS threat.

Two-day talks in Jeddah

The talks in the Saudi port city of Jeddah on Wednesday and Thursday will be attended by ministers from Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon and the six Gulf Arab states as well as Iraq, Egyptian and Lebanese officials told AFP.

Kerry has pledged to build “the broadest possible coalition of partners around the globe to confront, degrade and ultimately defeat (IS).”

“Almost every single country has a role to play in eliminating the (IS) threat and the evil that it represents,” the US top diplomat said.

Obama spoke with the new Iraqi premier late Monday to congratulate him on the formation of the new government.

“The prime minister expressed his commitment to work with all communities in Iraq as well as regional and international partners to strengthen Iraq’s capabilities to fight against this common enemy,” the White House said.

In reality the new government does not constitute quite the sea-change hailed by Washington – it remains dominated by politicians from Iraq’s Shiite Arab majority, the Kurds hold fewer ministries than in the previous cabinet and the Sunni Arabs relatively minor ones.

The divisive Maliki becomes one of three vice presidents, alongside a Sunni Arab – former parliament speaker Osama al-Nujaifi – and a secular Shiite – ex-premier Iyad Allawi.

Fuad Masum, a Kurd, became president in July.

Abadi also put off filling the key interior and defence portfolios, promising to name the two ministers who will take charge of the security forces’ fightback against the jihadists within the next week.

The commander of one of the Shiite militias that have played a growing military role alongside the army has sought the interior ministry post.

Any such appointment would risk further alienating the Sunni Arab minority given the Shiite militias’ brutal history in the sectarian bloodshed that gripped Iraq in 2006 to 2008.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon welcomed the new government as a “positive step” but urged politicians to quickly agree on new defence and interior ministers.

Iran welcomes new govt

Shiite Iran – alongside the United States, the key outside power in Iraq – said it hoped the change of government would help turn the tide against IS. President Hassan Rouhani said:

I hope that during your new mandate, complete calm will return to your country.

Kerry’s visit to the region comes on the eve of a Wednesday speech by the US president laying out his “game plan” on how to deal with the jihadists in both Iraq and Syria.

But Obama, who made his political career opposing the war in Iraq and pulled out American troops in 2011, has stressed he will not put US boots on the ground.

After weeks of US inaction, Obama authorised air operations in early August on IS positions in northern Iraq.

But he has so far held back on any action against the jihadists in Syria for fear of alienating that country’s Sunni majority.

The 22-member Arab League agreed at a meeting on Sunday to take the “necessary measures” to confront the militants.

Bur a senior Egyptian foreign ministry official told AFP on Tuesday that Cairo would take part in “concrete security measures” only “under a UN mandate and in the framework of a Security Council resolution.”

© AFP 2014

Read: Obama vows US ‘will not be intimidated’ by Islamic State jihadists>

Read: Amnesty: IS have carried out “acts of inhumanity on an unimaginable scale”>

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