“We are not, obviously, contemplating returning,” he told reporters in Jerusalem. “We’re not contemplating putting boots on the ground. This is their fight, but we’re going to help them in their fight.”
Kerry declined to say specifically how the U.S. would help the Iraqis.
“We’re going to do everything that is possible to help them, and I will not go into the details except to say that we’re in contact with tribal leaders from Anbar province whom we know, who are showing great courage in standing up against this as they reject terrorist groups from their cities,” he said.
“And this is a fight that belongs to the Iraqis. That is exactly what the president and the world decided some time ago when we left Iraq.”
In arguably the worst security crisis since American forces withdrew from Iraq in 2011, al-Qaeda fighters last week seized parts of the Anbar provincial capital of Ramadi, as well as nearby Fallujah.
During the war Anbar witnessed the emergence in 2006 of a Sunni tribal campaign against al-Qaeda-linked militants. That “awakening” movement and the “surge” of troop reinforcements sent in by President Bush in 2007 helped to stem the tide of sectarian violence and marked a turning point in the conflict.
During 2011 the U.S. and Iraqi governments held talks about retaining a number of U.S. troops in that country beyond the Dec. 31, 2011 withdrawal deadline laid down in a 2008 agreement. In the end negotiations broke down over the issue of legal jurisdiction, and plans for an ongoing training and counterterrorism force there were scrapped.
(Similar issues dogged U.S. negotiations with the Afghan government last year, and President Hamid Karzai continues to refuse to sign a security agreement providing for a U.S. force remaining there beyond the end of this year.)
After U.S. forces withdrew entirely from Iraq at the end of 2011 security deteriorated, with a dramatic escalation in Sunni-Shi’ite violence last year. Deadly bombings have become commonplace; on Sunday at least 19 people were killed in a fresh wave of bombings in Baghdad.
The group formerly known as al-Qaeda in Iraq renamed itself Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) and has become a key player in the Syrian civil war, where they are one of the most effective of the anti-Assad factions.
Kerry said the terrorists “are trying to assert their authority not just in Iraq but in Syria.”
“This is a fight that is bigger than just Iraq,” he said. “This is part of the reason why the Geneva conference is so critical, because the rise of these terrorists in the region and particularly in Syria and through the fighting in Syria is part of what is unleashing this instability in the rest of the region.”
“That’s why everybody has a stake – all of the Gulf states, all of the regional actors, Russia, the United States, and a lot of players elsewhere in the world have a stake in pushing back against violent extremist terrorists who respect no law, who have no goal other than to take over power and disrupt lives by force.”
Scheduled to begin on January 22, the Geneva conference aims to bring together Syrian regime and rebel representatives to discuss implementing a plan to establish of a mutually-agreed transitional governing body for Syria.