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John Kerry lands in Baghdad to press Iraqi leaders as insurgency spreads

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BAGHDAD: US secretary of state John Kerry landed in Baghdad on Monday to press Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki to form a more inclusive government in response to a Sunni insurgency that has swept much of northern and western Iraq.

Kerry’s visit came after Sunni militants took strongholds along Iraq’s western border at the weekend, strengthening supply routes from Syria where they have exploited a three-year-old rebellion to capture swathes of territory.

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on Sunday accused Washington of trying to regain control of the country it once occupied — a charge Kerry denied, saying the United States was committed to helping Iraq but wanted a more inclusive government.

Kerry would “discuss US actions underway to assist Iraq as it confronts this threat and urge Iraqi leaders to move forward as quickly as possible with its government formation process to forge a government that represents the interests of Iraqis,” state department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said.

Washington, which withdrew its troops from Iraq in 2011 after an eight year occupation that followed the 2003 invasion that toppled dictator Saddam Hussein, has been struggling help Iraq contain a Sunni insurgency led by an al-Qaida offshoot, the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant.

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