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Kerry urges Iraq’s embattled premier to use more inclusive government to oppose ISIL

June 23, 2014 at 6:09 PM EDT
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GWEN IFILL: Secretary of State John Kerry arrived in Iraq today to deliver the Obama administration’s message of political reform to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki face to face.

JOHN KERRY, Secretary of State: This is a critical moment for Iraq’s future.

GWEN IFILL: Secretary of State John Kerry stayed only a few hours in Baghdad, but it was long enough to deliver a stern warning to the Shiite-led government battling ISIL, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.

JOHN KERRY: The very future of Iraq depends on choices that will be made in the next days and weeks. And the future of Iraq depends primarily on the ability of Iraq’s leaders to come together and take a stand united against ISIL, not next week, not next month, but now.

GWEN IFILL: Kerry urged Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and others to form a more inclusive government. But he suggested President Obama might not wait for that to happen before launching airstrikes.

JOHN KERRY: The president will not be hampered if he deems it necessary if the formation is not complete.

GWEN IFILL: The visit came as ISIL and other Sunni fighters extended their grip over the weekend. They have now captured 20 towns and cities in a drive across Northern and Western Iraq.

Government forces have also lost control of the entire frontier with Syria and Jordan. Today, witnesses reported troops abandoned posts along the border with Jordan, turning busy trade routes into ghost towns.

NOURI HUSSEIN, Truck Driver (through interpreter): The army is retreating from the border. The border point is not stable. The situation is unstable. Only the police remain at the border. When we came here yesterday, the Iraqi police were the ones who stamped my passport.

GWEN IFILL: Sunni tribal leaders near the Jordanian border were negotiating to give ISIL control of a key crossing. That prompted Jordan to send its own military reinforcements to the region.

Insurgents also took over additional towns across Iraq’s Anbar province, and amateur video showed armed men patrolling the streets. The scene was similar to the north in Mosul. ISIL fighters seized control there two weeks ago. Today, they directed traffic and passed out copies of the Koran to drivers.

Elsewhere, Iraqi troops were still putting up a fight at Baqubah, less than 40 miles outside Baghdad. And as the battles raged ever closer to the capital, more Iraqi Shia lined up at military recruitment centers across Baghdad.

HUSSEIN MOHAMMED, Volunteer (through interpreter): I came to defend my country to fight against terrorism that came from outside the country, and not against our brothers, the Sunnis, the Turkmen, the Kurds. We came to cut the heads of those who came from outside to destroy our country.

GWEN IFILL: Thousands of others are choosing to flee the violence. The United Nations reports that half-a-million Iraqis have been driven from their homes in the last week alone.