As Iraq’s politicians remain deadlocked after many of them walked out of a parliamentary session Tuesday, Obama administration officials are making a big push to reach out to individual stakeholders in the region in order to convince them to keep working toward a new, representative government.
Vice President Joe Biden seems to have taken the lead in cajoling the leaders of the Sunni minority, while Secretary of State John Kerry is in charge of making sure the semi-autonomous Kurdish faction is still on board with a unified country.
Biden spoke this morning with Osama al-Nujaifi, a Sunni who served as the speaker of the previous Iraqi parliament and reportedly wants to hold onto that position, despite the Sunnis and Kurds having nominated someone else.
A White House readout of the call made no mention of the friction between the former speaker and the supporters of his potential replacement, Salim al-Jabouri, also a Sunni.
Meanwhile, Kerry met today with the chief of staff to Kurdish President Massoud Barzani, and later in the day spoke on the phone to Barzani himself, who announced Tuesday that he would hold a referendum on Kurdish independence.
State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki stressed that Kerry’s message to the Kurds is the same that he sends to Shiites and Sunnis.
“A united Iraq is a stronger Iraq and the focus should be on the existential threat that all Iraqis face and that people in the region face, which is the threat of ISIL, and we should not give an opening to a horrific terrorist group by being divided at this critical moment,” she said, referring to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, the militia that has seized control of much of northern and western Iraq recently.
Kerry’s interactions today built on his meeting in Iraq last week with Barzani (Kerry also met with al-Nujaifi on that trip), where he told the Kurdish leader to set aside his aspirations for independence in the more immediate interest of Iraqi citizens’ security against the Sunni militant group ISIS, which has been tearing its way through Iraq for almost a month.
“I’m going to bring up an elephant in the room,” Kerry told Barzani during the June 26 meeting, according to officials who briefed reporters afterward. “Whatever your aspirations are for your future, your interests now in the near-term are for a stable, sovereign and unified Iraq,” he continued.
But despite Kerry’s in-person appeals, the first Iraqi parliament session ended abruptly Tuesday after less than two hours, and both Kerry and Biden are back to working the phones with their Iraqi counterparts.