United States Secretary of State John Kerry arrived in the Iraqi capital of Baghdad Wednesday for the second stop of his Middle East tour aimed at building an anti-Islamic State coalition, according to media reports. On Tuesday, Kerry had kicked off his tour with a visit to Jordan.
Kerry is scheduled to meet the new Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi less than 48 hours after his government was approved by the Iraqi parliament. During his stay in Baghdad, Kerry will also meet the country’s President Fouad Massoum and speaker of the parliament Salim al-Jabouri.
Iraq will play a critical role in the effort to “degrade and eventually defeat ISIS (Islamic State)… and that will be the main focus on his talks," a senior State Department official told reporters traveling with Kerry.
Kerry’s trip marks the first high-level meeting between U.S. officials and Abadi since he become prime minister and it is aimed to highlight the Barack Obama-led administration's support for Iraq in its fight against Islamic State militants who have taken control over vast territories in the country’s northwest.
Kerry’s visit to Baghdad comes a day after the New York Times reported that Obama had expressed his readiness to expand airstrikes against the Sunni extremist group in Syria, with or without Congressional approval. However, the report, which cited unnamed government officials, added that the Obama administration had still not received the support of many Middle East countries, including Turkey and Saudi Arabia.
Kerry, during his current tour, will also attend a meeting of Arab leaders in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, where he is expected to garner support for a global coalition against the Islamic State and for airstrikes on the Sunni militant group's strongholds in northern Syria.
The U.S. has already launched over 150 airstrikes on Islamic State militants in Iraq over the past month, a mission undertaken without formal authorization from Congress. It has also sent military advisers, supplies and humanitarian aid to help Iraqi soldiers and Kurdish peshmerga forces battle the insurgent group, formerly known as ISIS.