Kerry Visits Iraq to Show Support for Embattled Abadi

Kerry Visits Iraq to Show  Support for Embattled AbadiKerry Visits Iraq to Show  Support for Embattled Abadi

US Secretary of State John Kerry visited Iraq on Friday to show support for its prime minister who is grappling with a political crisis, a collapsing economy and a fight to retake ground from Islamic State militants.

Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi last week unsettled Iraq's political elite with a proposed cabinet reshuffle that aims to curb entrenched corruption by replacing long-time politicians with technocrats and academics, Reuters reported. US officials fear the political unrest may harm Iraq's efforts to retake territory it has lost to Islamic State militants, notably its second city of Mosul, seized when parts of the Iraqi army collapsed in 2014.

"This is obviously a very critical time here in Iraq," Kerry said as he began a meeting with Foreign Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari at his villa in Baghdad's heavily protected Green Zone which houses embassies and government buildings.

He later met with Abadi, who ignored a US reporter's shouted question about whether he wanted Washington to deploy more troops to Iraq. The United States, which withdrew its forces from Iraq in 2011, has redeployed several thousand troops as part of a coalition it is leading against IS. Announcing Kerry's visit, US State Department spokesman John Kirby said the trip "will underscore our strong support for the Iraqi government as it addresses significant security, economic and political challenges."

In the past two weeks, Iraqi forces backed by US-led coalition air strikes have retaken significant parts of Hit, a town 130 km northwest of Baghdad.

However, an offensive billed as the first phase of a campaign to recapture the northern city of Mosul has been put on hold until reinforcements arrive to hold ground, the commander of the operation said on Wednesday.