By Joe Sterling
Secretary of State John Kerry said the United States will help Iraq in its battle against al Qaeda-linked fighters in western Iraq, but stressed it won't send troops.
Speaking to reporters in Jerusalem on Sunday during his visit to the Middle East, Kerry said the United States is not contemplating a return to the volatile nation. U.S. military forces, which invaded Iraq and toppled the Saddam Hussein regime in 2003, fought insurgents there for years until they withdrew at the end of 2011.
"We are not, obviously, contemplating returning. We're not contemplating putting boots on the ground. This is their fight, but we're going to help them in their fight," Kerry said, noting that the United States plans to be in "close contact with all of the Iraq political leaders" to determine how to help them.
"We 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. 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."
Fighting in the predominantly Sunni Anbar province in recent days has posed a serious challenge to Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki and his Shiite-dominated government, raising questions about his ability to hold the country together amid a rising insurgency.
This weekend, the Iraqi army shelled the Anbar city of Falluja in an effort to clear out al Qaeda-linked fighters amid dueling claims by the terror group and government forces about just who was in control of the flashpoint town.
Violence raged in the capital of Baghdad on Sunday, as well. Three car bombs and two roadside bombs exploded in several areas, killing at least 12 people and wounded dozens.
Conflicting reports have the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), formerly the group commonly known as al Qaeda in Iraq, in partial control of Falluja, the site of some of the bloodiest fighting between U.S. forces and insurgents during the Iraq War.
Kerry said the U.S. government is concerned that al Qaeda and ISIS "are trying to assert their authority not just in Iraq but in Syria."
"These are the most dangerous players in that region. Their barbarism against the civilians of Ramadi and Falluja and against Iraqi security forces is on display for everybody in the world to see. Their brutality is something we have seen before. And we will stand with the government of Iraq and with others who will push back against their efforts to destabilize and to bring back, to wreak havoc on the region and on the democratic process that is taking hold in Iraq."
Kerry called the fight against the militants "bigger than just Iraq" and the United States has an "interest" in helping an elected government "push back against the terrorists."
"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.
Meanwhile, a number of Sunni tribal leaders struck a deal with the government this week to fight alongside Iraq's security forces against al Qaeda forces.
The deal the government made with the Sunni tribal fighters was comparable to a 2007 U.S. pact that saw Sunnis turn on al Qaeda, siding with American and Iraqi forces to bring about an end to the terrorism.
The fighting between Sunni militants against Shiite-dominated forces was reminiscent of fighting during the height of the Iraq War in 2006 and 2007, when sectarian violence nearly tore the country apart.
CNN's Mohammed Tawfeeq contributed to this report
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