Iraq will not turn into another Syria: Ministry

Iraq will not turn into another Syria: Ministry

Iraq will not turn into another Syria: Ministry

US Secretary of State John Kerry and Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari (L) answer journalists’ questions at the State Department in Washington. REUTERS photo

Iraq’s Interior Ministry has said it would not allow al-Qaeda, which it blames for a surge in sectarian violence, to turn Iraq into another Syria while U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry warned that the country risked destabilization from Sunni and Shiite extremists.

“Iraq’s streets have become a battleground for sectarian people who are motivated by hatred and religious edicts and daring to kill innocent people,” the Interior Ministry said in an unusually frank statement. “It is our destiny to win this battle which is aimed at destroying the country and turning it into another Syria,” the ministry said.

Sunni militant groups, including al-Qaeda, have stepped up their insurgency against Iraq’s Shiite-led government in the past four months, raising fears of a return to full-blown sectarian conflict 18 months after U.S. troops left. The government has launched a security sweep to try to round up suspected militants and Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has said the crackdown would continue.

The civil war in neighboring Syria, which has stoked sectarian tensions across the Middle East, has boosted Sunni insurgents in Iraq who are also benefiting from general discontent in the minority Sunni population. The Interior Ministry described the conflict last month as “open war” and the United States has said it will work closely with the Iraqi government to confront al-Qaeda. The U.N. envoy to Iraq also said the escalating violence can no longer be separated from the civil war in Syria because “the battlefields are merging.”

Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari told his U.S. counterpart John Kerry in Washington that the Iraqi people would not succumb to the violence and the government would not allow a lapse into civil or sectarian war.

“There is a clear determination by the Iraqi leadership that really we’ve been there before, in 2007-2008. We are not going to go there again,” Zebari said Aug. 15 at the State Department.

‘Horrific series of assults’

Kerry said that Iraq faced “increasingly turbulent, violent and unpredictable” regional currents. “Sunni and Shia extremists on both sides of the sectarian divide throughout the region have an ability to be able to threaten Iraq’s stability if they’re not checked,” Kerry told reporters.

Kerry condemned the “horrific series of assaults” by al-Qaeda and warned of the group’s activity in Syria, where mostly Sunni rebels are fighting to topple President Bashar al-Assad.

“With many al-Qaeda leaders now operating in Syria, we all need to accelerate our work in order to set the conditions for diplomatic settlement for the Syrian crisis,” Kerry said.

The top U.S. diplomat also said that his country would help Baghdad deal with the spillover from the Syrian conflict, including weapons flowing out of Syria into Iraq and from Iraq to Syria, as well as to combat the efforts by al-Qaeda and by Syria’s allies Iran and Hezbollah to recruit Iraqis.

“We are committed to helping Iraq to withstand these pressures and to bolster the moderate forces throughout the region,” said Kerry. He also urged Baghdad to address pressing domestic issues that fuel strife. “There needs to be progress within Iraq on political issues, on economic issues, as well as on the larger constitutional issues that have been outstanding for too long,” said Kerry.

Compiled from Reuters and AFP stories by the Daily News staff.