WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States on Tuesday condemned the seizure of the Iraqi city of Mosul by Sunni Islamist insurgents, calling the situation “extremely serious” and urging fractious political groups to fight Iraq’s enemies together.
State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the takeover of Iraq’s second biggest city in the last 48 hours by forces from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant showed the serious deterioration of security in the country.
The United States has supplied large amounts of weaponry to the Iraqi government since pulling its forces out in 2011, but Baghdad has failed to heal festering sectarian and political divisions sometimes fomented by outside forces.
“There’s no question that unity - and all sides and officials in Iraq working together - is the only way that they can be successful here,” Psaki told a regular briefing.
ISIL originated as an Iraq-based affiliate of al Qaeda. Recently the group, which is fighting to set up an Islamic state in parts of Iraq and Syria, has been denounced by al Qaeda’s central leadership for apostasy and excessive violence.
Psaki said senior U.S. officials in both Washington and Baghdad were tracking events closely in coordination with Maliki’s government and other officials, including Kurds in their semi-autonomous northern region.
“The situation remains extremely serious,” She said in a statement.
White House spokesman Josh Earnest, speaking at a White House briefing, urged Maliki to do more to meet the needs of Iraqis who have complained they are disenfranchised by his Shi‘ite-led government.
In the last three years the Obama administration has taken a largely hands-off approach to Iraq, which it invaded in 2003 to oust President Saddam Hussein.
Over the last year the conflict in neighbouring Syria rekindled insurgent violence and Washington accelerated efforts to smooth over differences between Iraq’s Sunnis, Shi‘ites and Kurds and provided arms requested by Maliki.
Psaki said this included 300 Hellfire missiles, small arms and tank ammunition, helicopter-fired rockets, machineguns and rifles.
She said the United States also delivered Bell IA-407 helicopters late last year, and surveillance equipment is on schedule for delivery this summer. There is also a proposed agreement to sell Apache attack helicopters to Iraq.
A senior U.S. national security official said in Washington that Maliki had asked leaders in Iraq’s Kurdistan region to send Kurdish peshmerga fighters to Mosul.
Kurdish leaders were still considering it, the official said. The official indicated the Obama administration believed Kurdish help could prove critical in repelling the insurgents.
Republican Senator John McCain said the takeover of Mosul was a reflection of President Barack Obama’s failure to leave a U.S. force in Iraq to help assure stability.
“There’s no doubt that we could have left troops behind, as we have in Korea and Germany and Bosnia, and didn’t, and so it is now chaos, and so you will see greater and greater attacks and .. chaos in Iraq,” McCain told reporters.
Additional reporting by Patricia Zengerle; Editing by Missy Ryan, David Storey and Mohammad Zargham