US reaches out to Saudi Arabia, Sunni, Kurd leaders in Iraq

Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz al-Saud (right) and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry wait for a meeting at the King's private residence in the Red Sea city of Jeddah on June 27, 2014. Top US officials on Wednesday upped pressure on key Iraqi
Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz al-Saud (right) and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry wait for a meeting at the King's private residence in the Red Sea city of Jeddah on June 27, 2014. Top US officials on Wednesday upped pressure on key Iraqi leaders as political chaos in Baghdad clouded American hopes for a unity government to tackle the country’s sectarian breakdown. -- PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON (AFP) - Top US officials on Wednesday upped pressure on key Iraqi leaders as political chaos in Baghdad clouded American hopes for a unity government to tackle the country’s sectarian breakdown.

President Barack Obama, meanwhile widened the US effort to convince key regional powers to prevail on Iraqi factions for a political settlement, calling Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah.

Vice-President Joe Biden, who frequently burns up the phone lines to Baghdad, talked to the speaker of Iraq’s previous parliament, Osama al-Nujaifi, a prominent Sunni leader.

Secretary of State John Kerry meanwhile met a Kurdish delegation in Washington and also spoke to Iraqi Kurdish leader Massud Barzani by phone.

The White House said Mr Biden and Mr Nujaifi agreed on the importance of Iraqis “moving expeditiously to form a new government capable of uniting the country.”

Mr Kerry stressed the important role that the Kurds would play in a new multi-sect government in Baghdad, which Washington says is vital to meeting the challenge of Sunni Islamic State (IS) jihadists who have seized vast tracts of Iraqi territory in recent months.

Mr Barzani last week warned that there was no going back on Kurdish rule in the oil-rich northern city of Kirkuk and other towns now defended by Kurdish fighters against Sunni militants.

He also pledged, in an interview with the BBC, to hold an independence referendum within months, raising the spectre of the break-up of Iraq.

State Department spokesman Jen Psaki said Mr Kerry emphasised with Mr Barzani the urgency of Kurdish “participation in the government formation process (and) the important role the Kurds (are) playing moving forward.”

The first session of Iraq’s new parliament, dedicated to choosing a new government, broke up in chaos on Tuesday, with lawmakers walking out and making threats, despite the gravity of the political and security situation.

Many Sunni and Kurdish deputies walked out, causing a quorum to be lost, so a speaker could not be elected, and the session ended in disarray.

Washington has made no secret of the fact that it does not believe Shi'ite Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki is the man to lead the new government, blaming him for pursuing sectarian policies in the past – which the US government believes helped prepare the ground for the IS advance.

But no consensus has emerged on who should succeed Maliki and the prime minister seems determined to cling to power.Under a de facto agreement, in Iraq, the premier of the government is a Shi'ite Arab, the speaker Sunni Arab and the president a Kurd.

Mr Obama and Mr Abdullah agreed on the need for separate Iraqi factions to unite to form a politically viable government, the White House said.

“The President thanked the King for Saudi Arabia’s pledge of US$500 million (S$625 million) to help alleviate the suffering of all Iraqis who have been displaced by the violence,” said a White House statement.