Baghdad - US Secretary of State John Kerry will attend key Nato
discussions on Iraq on Wednesday, the day after US military advisers began
moving into Baghdad as Iraqi forces battle Sunni militants.
Iraqi government troops held off Sunni insurgent attacks on
a key town and an oil refinery Tuesday as Kerry pushed for unity in a conflict
the UN says has killed nearly 1 100.
But those successes were marred when civilians were killed
by air strikes aiming to push back Sunni Muslim insurgents, led by the Islamic
State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), who have seized swathes of five provinces
north and west of Baghdad.
The onslaught has displaced hundreds of thousands of people,
alarmed world leaders and put Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki under pressure at
home and abroad.
The first of up to 300 US military advisers began their
mission in Baghdad on Tuesday to help the Iraqi army, but the Pentagon said the
American troops were not taking on a combat role.
The primary task of the advisers was to evaluate the state
of the Iraqi forces and not to turn the tide against militants from ISIL, which
have swept across western and northern Iraq, the Pentagon's press secretary
"This isn't about rushing to the rescue," Rear
Admiral John Kirby told reporters.
However the US is ready to carry out bombing raids if called
upon, Kirby added.
He also said the United States had expanded its surveillance
flights over Iraq, with manned and unmanned aircraft, and now was conducting 30
to 35 sorties a day.
'Critical time for Iraq'
Kerry huddled with European allies late on Tuesday, ahead of
the key Nato talks in Brussels, after a whirlwind visit to Iraq aimed at
shoring up Iraqi unity.
Shortly after flying in on a US military plane, Kerry met
with EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton as well as other European
partners and "discussed the grave security situation in Iraq," a
He also attended a dinner of foreign ministers from the
With crises boiling over in Ukraine and Syria, the Sunni
jihadist offensive in northern Iraq has added new urgency to an already-packed
Nato agenda, with ministers also due to discuss efforts to wind down the war in
"As everybody knows this is a very critical time for
Iraq," Kerry warned in Arbil earlier on Tuesday as he met with Kurdish
leaders to discuss the ISIL onslaught.
The militant offensive allowed Iraqi Kurds to take control
of disputed territory they want to incorporate into their autonomous region
over Baghdad's strong objections.
After wilting in the first attacks two weeks ago, the Iraqi
loyalists appear to be performing better against the Sunni insurgents, holding
off assaults at the Baiji oil refinery in the north, the country's largest.