Skip to main content

Kerry: 'Words are cheap' but promising in Iraq

By Jim Sciutto and Michael Pearson, CNN
updated 1:23 PM EDT, Tue June 24, 2014
  • Iraqi Kurdish leader is willing to help form a new government, U.S. secretary of state says
  • Massoud Barzani has said he wants to push for Kurdish independence
  • A new government is crucial to success in Iraq, Kerry says in a CNN interview
  • "I'm not taking anything I hear to the bank," Kerry says

(CNN) -- Iraqi Kurdish President Massoud Barzani is willing to participate in the formation of a new government in Baghdad, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said Tuesday.

On Monday, Barzani told CNN's Christiane Amanpour that he would press the issue of Kurdish independence with Kerry when the U.S. official visited Irbil, saying, "The Kurdish people should seize the opportunity now."

Kurds have complained that Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's Shiite-dominated government has marginalized them, a feeling shared by Iraq's Sunni Arab minority.

In his interview with CNN, Kerry said Iraqi leaders he has spoken with have "realized they cannot continue with this sectarian division" -- a realization that would presumably include a greater role for Kurds in governance.

"Words are cheap. I'm not taking anything I hear to the bank and saying, 'Wow, it's going to be solved,' " he said.

Kerry pledges 'intense' support in Iraq
Why Americans should worry about ISIS?
Is Iraq lost?

"But I'm hearing things that indicate to me that if they follow through on the things they're saying, there's a capacity to have a new government that could be a unity government, that could reflect a greater capacity for success."

Iraq government claims gains in anti-militant fight

The United States has sent military advisers to counsel Iraqi commanders on how best to take the fight to militants trying to create an Islamic state in Syria and Iraq.

U.S. officials also have promised what Kerry said Monday would be "sustained" and "intense" aid.

President Barack Obama is also weighing military intervention short of combat troops.

But forming a new Iraqi government is a crucial precursor to further U.S. intervention to stop the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, Kerry said.

"The key is, if you don't have a viable government, that is a unity government that is not going to repeat the mistakes of the last few years, whatever we might choose to do would be extraordinarily hampered," he said.

Kerry said failing to come up with a new political structure would make it "very difficult to be successful" with a military intervention.

Still, he noted, the President maintains the right to engage in such activity, with or without a political solution, if he decides that doing so is in the United States' interest.

"He reserves the right to use force if he has to," said Kerry, "if it's going to accomplish a goal."

He denied that Obama's decision not to launch airstrikes against Syria -- where ISIS has gained much of its strength -- or delays in making a decision about what to do in Iraq have made the crisis worse.

"... You've got to have a holistic, comprehensive approach, and the President is trying to figure out, as we are, I am, whether or not Iraq is prepared to be part of that," he said.

In the interview, Kerry defended Obama's decision not to go forward with military strikes in Syria.

"The reason that the decision to strike Syria didn't happen was because we ultimately came up with a better solution after the President made his decision to strike," Kerry said, referring to an agreement that required Bashar al-Assad's regime to give up its chemical weapons stockpile.

On Monday, the organization tasked with monitoring the weapons removal said the Syrian government had turned over all of its declared chemical weapons.

"That's a very significant accomplishment," said Kerry.

Political Chatter: The new Iraq debate

Kerry assures Iraqis of U.S. support if they unite against militants

CNN's Jim Sciutto reported from Irbil, Iraq; Michael Pearson wrote from Atlanta.

Part of complete coverage on
Get all the latest news and updates on Iraq in Arabic by visiting CNN Arabic.
ISIS has spread from Syria into Iraq. Learn where the militant strongholds are.
updated 7:46 AM EDT, Fri July 11, 2014
Staring up at the stained hospital ceiling, Hassan recounts the fierce firefight on the streets of Ramadi that landed him here.
updated 9:56 PM EDT, Tue July 8, 2014
'Why do these people kill other people?" For Iraq's youngest residents, the tragedy in the country is almost incompreensible.
Even those who aren't in the line of fire feel the effects of the chaos that has engulfed Iraq since extremists attacked.
updated 2:04 AM EDT, Tue July 8, 2014
In a palm orchard in Baghdad, women learn how to protect their children and homes, afraid if ISIS penetrates the Iraqi capital.
updated 8:21 AM EDT, Tue July 8, 2014
Joe Biden once argued it was time to split Iraq into three parts: Kurdish, Shia and Sunni. And why not?
updated 4:17 PM EDT, Mon July 7, 2014
CNN's Hala Gorani speaks to terrorism expert Peter Neumann about video that purports to show ISIS' leader in Iraq.
updated 6:58 PM EDT, Sun July 6, 2014
CNN's Arwa Damon gets exclusive access to the front lines of the Iraqi Army's defense against advancing ISIS militants.
updated 10:20 AM EDT, Thu July 3, 2014
A Colorado woman was arrested at the Denver airport and charged with conspiracy to provide material support to terrorists.
updated 8:21 PM EDT, Thu July 3, 2014
CNN's Nima Elbagir rides with police special forces as they attempt to secure Baghdad from enemies within the city.
updated 11:13 AM EDT, Tue July 1, 2014
Faisal Al Yafai: The caliphate is not the answer to Iraq's wars -- but neither is division. For better or worse, the Mideast is stuck with its current borders.
updated 6:17 PM EDT, Mon June 30, 2014
Saudi dissident and suspected terrorist leader Osama bin Laden is seen in this undated file photo taken somewhere in Afghanistan.
The creation of a caliphate was Osama bin Laden's dream. ISIS is attempting to make it a reality.
updated 5:21 AM EDT, Mon June 30, 2014
Under a sweltering sun, Fallah al Araiby hunched over the hood of a car, scrubbing away the dirt.
updated 12:00 AM EDT, Mon June 30, 2014
The extremist group that's taken over a large swath of western and northern Iraq announced on Sunday the establishment of a "caliphate."
updated 12:58 AM EDT, Thu June 26, 2014
CNN's Nic Robertson journeys to the front lines, where old Iraqi tanks are being used to keep ISIS out of Baghdad.
updated 9:19 PM EDT, Wed June 25, 2014
CNN's Arwa Damon reports on how Iraqis are living under ISIS control in Mosul.
updated 4:25 PM EDT, Wed June 25, 2014
The US isn't doing airstrikes in Iraq. Is there a vacuum for Syria and Iran to step in? CNN's Fareed Zakaria weighs in.
updated 10:29 AM EDT, Wed June 25, 2014
T-shirts, hoodies and even toy figurines bearing the ISIS logo are being sold on online and marketed across social media.
updated 9:39 PM EDT, Tue June 24, 2014
CNN's Arwa Damon shares one mixed Sunni-Shiite family's story out of Iraq amid increased worry ISIS is taking over.