Press Availability in Baghdad, Iraq
Secretary of State
SECRETARY KERRY: Well, good afternoon, everybody. Let me apologize up front for, number one, being a little late, but two, because we’re running a little late and I have an important meeting in Amman, we’re going to have to be a little bit curtailed on the questions, and I apologize for that.
I really am delighted to be here today in Baghdad on the heels of such an important moment for the Iraqi people just one day after they have completed a very critical and very difficult task of forming a government. And the fact that the Iraqis were able to overcome such deep sectarian and ethnic divides and approve a new and inclusive government is really a great accomplishment.
They were able to do this – the fact that they were able to do this peacefully in the midst of unspeakable terror and violence and bloodshed is nothing short of historic. And it’s a true signal that Iraq and the leaders they have chosen are committed at this moment to the democratic future that so many Iraqis have sacrificed everything to bring about.
Obviously, the hard work is very far from over. We all know that. In many ways, it’s just beginning. Establishing a government doesn’t mean a lot if it is not able to govern effectively or doesn’t govern inclusively, and it particularly needs to govern inclusively in order to represent the interests of all the Iraqi people.
I was encouraged – very encouraged, as a matter of fact, because I’ve been here many times in many meetings, and I have never in any of those meetings seen a unanimity, without complaint, of a sense of direction and commitment to the concept of inclusivity and of addressing the unaddressed issues of the last eight years or more. I was encouraged by the commitment that I heard from all of the leaders that I met with today, but a particular clarity from Prime Minister Abadi, from President Masum, and from Speaker Jabouri.
Each of them restated their deep commitment to coming together in order to solve the immediate problems of inclusivity, of oil, of federalism, of the budget, of de-Baathification – all of those issues that have confounded Iraq for these past years and divided it. They understand the road traveled, and they understand the road they want to travel, and they don’t want to go backwards.
They all stated their commitment to the national plan, and that plan was developed specifically to address these longstanding grievances that have been an obstacle to Iraq’s prosperity and security for far too long, including, I might add, issues with respect to their security forces, the nature of those security forces, the makeup of those security forces, the inclusivity of those forces itself, the regional autonomy issues, the devolution of power, questions of the constitution, and particularly the allocation of Iraq’s budget.
The national plan also calls for the establishment of locally rooted security structures that are directly integrated into the Iraqi security forces. This national guard, as it has been called, will protect the population of Iraqi cities and towns, and it will also deny space for ISIL. As it does that, it is going to be the key to guaranteeing that Iraq’s territorial integrity can be kept intact and, in fact, unthreatened.
I was also encouraged to learn today that Prime Minister Abadi is very focused on this national guard and plans to accelerate its formulation during his first cabinet meeting this week. The United States is prepared to provide technical advice and assistance in order to help the Iraqis move this very important initiative forward. Now, implementing the national plan effectively is going to require patience and it’s going to require further compromise. But it’s the only way that Iraq has any hope of actually securing the effective, inclusive government that the Iraqi people demand and deserve.
Today, President Obama asked me to come here not just to build a coalition, not just to talk to the Iraqis about the road forward here at this moment, but also to underscore to the people of Iraq that the United States will stand by them in this effort. We stand by Iraq as it continues to build a government that meets the needs of each of Iraq’s diverse communities, and we stand by them as they fight to overcome the single greatest threat that their government, their families, and their neighbors face today, and that’s ISIL.
ISIL claims to be fighting on behalf of Islam, but the fact is that its hateful ideology has nothing to do with Islam. ISIL is a manifestation of evil, a vicious terrorist organization, and it is an organization that achieves its goals only through violence, repression, and destruction. Fed by illicit funding and a stream of foreign fighters, it has seized territory and terrorized the people who live there regardless of their sect or ethnicity. There is literally no place for their barbarity in the modern world. And this is a fight that the Iraqi people must win, but it’s also a fight that the rest of the world needs to win with them. And it’s a fight the United States and the rest of the world need to support every single step of the way.
As President Obama has made clear from the beginning, a new and inclusive Iraqi Government has to be the engine of our global strategy against ISIL. And now that the Iraqi parliament has approved a new cabinet with new leaders and representation from all Iraqi communities, it’s full speed ahead. And President Obama a few hours from now will lay out his strategy for taking America, Iraq, the region, and the world forward with respect to this challenge. We need to continue to drive this strategy over these next days with intensity.
Already, we and nearly 40 other countries, even as I speak now, are already contributing military, humanitarian, and other assistance to aid the campaign against ISIL. And to date, with the help of our international partners, the United States has launched more than 150 airstrikes in order to weaken ISIL and protect the innocent people that it seeks to harm, and also to specifically help to break the siege in Amirli, to help to break the siege at the Mosul Dam and at Sinjar Mountain, with success in each of those instances.
In addition, together with willing allies, the international community has dropped – airdropped food and medical supplies to Iraqi families, including the 1.8 million people who have been displaced due to ISIL’s brutality. And today I can tell you that we’ll be providing another $48 million to UN agencies, other international organizations, and NGOs that are working tirelessly to save lives and to alleviate suffering.
When the world hears from President Obama this evening, he will lay out with great specificity each component of a broad strategy in order to deal with ISIL. And in the days ahead I will be meeting with leaders from across the region and beyond in order to discuss how can we best build on the work that has already been done and to assemble the broadest possible coalition for this fight.
Nearly every country on Earth could have an ability and an interest to join in this effort, whether by providing military assistance, by helping to track and stop the flow of foreign fighters, helping to track and stop the flow of money. All of these are things that sustain ISIL’s terrorism, and all of them are things that are subject to impact by other countries in the world. Also, those countries – many others, particularly in the Muslim world, can join together in defining the real Islam and making it clear that there is no legitimacy whatsoever within ISIL for any of the claims that they make with respect to a religious foundation for their Caliphate, their state, or for their actions. It is necessary for moderate, reasonable people around the world to repudiate the distortion of Islam that ISIL seeks to spread and to contribute, as they do, to the urgent humanitarian relief effort that is required because of their barbarity.
We all have an interest in supporting the new Government of Iraq at this particular critical juncture. The coalition that’s at the heart of our global strategy, I assure you, will continue to grow and deepen in the days ahead, including at the UN General Assembly in New York later this month. And that is because the United States and the world will simply not stand by and watch as ISIL’s evil spreads. We all know – I think we come to this with great confidence that ultimately our global coalition will succeed in eliminating the threat from Iraq, from the region, and from the world. And in the doing so, we have an opportunity to build a broader coalition that can focus on lots of other challenges within this region and to prove the ability of nations to come together for common cause and to make a difference in strengthening the long-term security of all of those nations in the region and elsewhere.
So this is a moment for international cooperation to prove its value. This is a moment for multilateralism to prove its value and have its effect. This is a moment for all decent countries to come together and stand up and say to the world that we’ve had enough of these individual groups with their violent brand of distortion who seek to dominate people and coerce them, at risk of losing their life or limb, to their way of thinking. That is not what the global order or the norms of behavior have happily stood for for many, many years now, and they’re not going to start to now.
So that’s our challenge, and I’m very, very pleased with the constructive meetings that I had here in Iraq to begin this effort, to grow this coalition as rapidly as possible and put us in a position to move forward.
MS. PSAKI: The first question will be from Lara Jakes of the Associated Press.
QUESTION: Thank you. Mr. Secretary, you just outlined a list of plans the new government says it will undertake to make Iraq more inclusive. What tangible and specific assurances did you hear today to make you believe that those promises would be kept? Earlier, you also heard the prime minister say that Iraq cannot cross the border to fight the Islamic State and that he was looking to the international community and the United States for that kind of help. What --
SECRETARY KERRY: Say that last – again?
QUESTION: Right, so --
SECRETARY KERRY: Earlier?
QUESTION: You’ve heard the prime minister say that Iraq cannot cross the border to fight the Islamic State and that he was looking for the international community and the United States for that kind of help. So what kind specific and tangible assurances did you give him that the United States would provide that kind of help?
And additionally, it’s believed that American and Iranian allied forces helped break the siege of Amirli. Is the U.S. now willing to work with Iran going forward to help defeat the Islamic State?
And finally --
SECRETARY KERRY: Well, I’ve got to --
QUESTION: -- the OPCW concluded that toxic chemicals were used in attacks in northern Syria earlier this year. Do you know who is behind those attacks, and does this change anything about the U.S. strategy in Syria?
SECRETARY KERRY: Well, to answer the last part of the question first, we do not have detailed information about specifically who issued an order, as we did on August the 21st event. We do not have specific information about what entity delivered it. We have lots of circumstantial evidence, as we did prior to August 21st of last year. But there is a clear pattern of circumstantial evidence that the Assad regime writ large, with some players within that regime have been using chlorine in a form that amounts to a chemical agent, contrary to the ban under the chemical convention treaty.
So while there are indications, they are – they’re still broad and circumstantial. You can draw a conclusion from them, but at this moment we’re looking for a greater degree of detail with respect to any potential actions.
With respect to Iran and the future with respect to efforts against ISIL, Iran obviously is opposed to ISIL. And then Iran is taking its own actions and has taken its own actions with respect to ISIL. The United States does not cooperate, militarily or otherwise, nor does it have any intention in this process of doing so, with Iran. Whatever they do is collateral and on their own. And we will pursue our own coalition over the course of these next weeks.
The first part of your question was --
QUESTION: It was about what assurances did you hear from the Iraqis.
SECRETARY KERRY: Oh.
QUESTION: And what assurances did you give them?
SECRETARY KERRY: Well, every – as I said, I think, in my opening comments, every single leader that I talked to today in the strongest terms possible affirmed that they had learned lessons over these last years. Some of these leaders are – people that we know well – were opposed to things that were happening in the last years that were pulling Iraq apart. Some of them were advocating alternative actions that might have held Iraq together at an earlier stage. So we have a base of credibility, if you will, in the background and history of some of the leaders that have now come to the forefront in this new government.
But in addition, they came together organized around principle. And the fundamental principle of organization for this entire new government thus far has been we must move in a different direction from the direction that has existed in these last years. And that direction was one of sectarian division, of exploitation of divisions, of political retribution, even political arrests, political accusations. There were a host of different grievances that had built up that brought people to the brink of an utter breakdown in Iraq. And they came together determined to move to address the questions that had been left unaddressed – the oil issues, the revenue issues, the budget issues, the devolution of power, the nature of the Iraqi security forces, the rise of militias, the isolation of certain sectarian groups from the sharing of power. All of these issues are what have brought them now to a new national program that they have articulated and rearticulated and today recommitted to.
So what I know is we will get a best effort to achieve it. Can I tell you that every one of these things will happen in the next days or weeks? No, obviously I can’t do that. But I can tell you there’s a determination on their part to try to make it work, and the United States and other countries are going to be committed to work with them to help that to happen. The stakes are too high; failure is unacceptable. And that’s essentially what I heard from all of them. They know they need to succeed, and I believe they’re committed to it. And I heard that reaffirmed in many different ways today.
QUESTION: And your assurances to the Iraqi Government?
SECRETARY KERRY: Well, our assurances are that as long as they are moving in that direction, as long as they are committed to this pluralism, as long as they’re committed to diversity, as long as they’re committed to inclusivity, as long as they’re going to protect minorities within Iraq, as long as they are going to follow through on their promises, we are committed to work them and to help them in that effort – not just because we need to do that in order to fight ISIL, but because the United States has had already years of engagement and commitment and invested very, very heavily in life and in financial treasure in order to get – give Iraq the chance for this future. I think these leaders understand that and they’re committed to try to make their best efforts.
The road to democracy is never easy, but we’re going to work as hard as we can, jointly, and particularly driven by the realities of ISIL and the need for all of us to coordinate to that effect. I will say and announce now that just before I came here Prince Saud al-Faisal called me to confirm that Saudi Arabia is inviting Iraq’s foreign minister to join tomorrow in the conference in Jeddah based on the affirmations that have been made by this government to be a different government, to move in a different direction. So the possibilities are there. They – the end product is going to be up to the Government of Iraq to fulfill the aspirations and hopes of the Iraqi people. And we’ll do everything we can to try to help them do that.
MODERATOR: The final question will be from Mohammed Taleb of Al Iraqiya TV.
QUESTION: (In Arabic.)
SECRETARY KERRY: Well, as-salam alaikum. Let me say to you that President Obama is going to speak to that in a few hours, and he will lay out the details of exactly what we’re going to do. But as I said earlier and we’ve said previously, this is a broad-based comprehensive strategy that is being laid out. And it will not just be reserved to bombs or direct military assistance. It will be comprehensive with Iraqi forces on the ground in Iraq with an army that will be reconstituted and trained and worked on in terms of a number of different strategies through the help not just of the United States but of other countries also. But in – and let me emphasize: Iraq has not asked for American forces on the ground nor other forces and Iraq doesn’t want those other forces here, and we understand that.
In addition, the President of the United States and other leaders of other countries have eliminated the notion of their forces being engaged in direct combat unless, obviously, something very, very dramatic changed. That’s the way it is today, and that’s the way it’s going to be. And the President is building a strategy around that. But as you know, we support the Syrian moderate opposition. In addition, we have talked about plans to grow that support for the Syrian moderate opposition. So there are people who live in these countries who have serious commitments to opposing what is happening there, and they’ve been prepared previously over many years to put their lives on the line in order to fight for what they believe. They believe that with adequate levels of support of various kinds, they can carry that fight. And so do we – we believe that.
So you’ll see tonight from the President’s comments the breadth of each of the areas and what he intends to announce, and I think it’s appropriate for me just to have given you those general comments and then you’ll get the greater details later.
MODERATOR: Thank you, everyone.
SECRETARY KERRY: Thanks, all. Appreciate it.