Secretary of State John Kerry is facing an uphill battle in his efforts to force Iraq's Shiite-led government to revamp and thus dampen a Sunni insurgency that is rampaging through the country, according to NBC News' chief foreign affairs correspondent Andrea Mitchell.
“It is very difficult to see what the chances are for a reformed Iraqi government with a leader who is more respected than [Prime Minister Nouri] al-Maliki,” said Mitchell, who traveled to Iraq's northeastern city of Erbil with Kerry on Tuesday.
On Monday, Kerry met with Maliki, whose party lacks the parliamentary seats to form a government on its own but whose grip on power makes finding an alternative difficult, Mitchell said. The U.S. has given Maliki a July 1 deadline to form a new coalition government as precondition for helping fight the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS).
"Anything that they [U.S. leaders] bless will automatically will be toxic"
“Maliki and the other leaders all said that they would heed his warning to quickly form a new government, but in the past those promises have been meaningless so there are no real expectations that they are going to meet the July 1 deadline," she added.
Maliki’s Shiite-dominated government has been blamed for helping foster Sunni anger and dissatisfaction that has exploded into an outright insurgency. American officials hope that a stable and inclusive government will rally the Iraqi security forces to fight the militants instead of laying down their weapons as they have in many Sunni-dominated areas since the start of the year.
Upon arriving in the capital of the semi-autonomous Kurdish region on Tuesday, Kerry emphasized the need for a “broad-based inclusive government all Iraqis I’ve talked to are demanding.”
"The proof will be in the pudding as of July 1 and thereafter as to whether or not they get to job done," Kerry said.
Nevertheless, the Americans have been careful not to publicly back any specific alternative to Maliki for fear of it backfiring, Mitchell said.
“Anything that they bless will automatically be toxic,” she said. “Kerry has said, 'We are not here to pick winners or losers, we are just here to encourage them.' Behind the scenes they are surely playing a role.”
The leaders of the country’s Kurdish semi-autonomous region looked set to gain from the chaos, Mitchell said.
“[Kerry] is meeting with [Kurdish Regional Government President Massoud] Barzani and the challenge there is that Barzani has talked about carving out an independent Kurdish state in northern Iraq because they have gained considerable territory against ISIS,” Mitchell said.
“They are the only ethnic group that has actually benefited from the crisis of the last two weeks,” she added. “On eve of Kerry’s visit [Barzani] said he’s looking for independence rather than helping form a coalition which is what the U.S. wants.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.