Iraq crisis: Kerry in Irbil to meet with Kurdish leader as Baiji oil refinery 'falls' to militants

The US Secretary of State visited several top Iraqi leaders in Baghdad on Monday, including Prime Minister Nouri Maliki

John Kerry is spending a second day in Iraq to meet with the Kurdish region's president as part of a diplomatic drive pushing towards a more inclusive government in the crisis-hit country.

He arrived in Irbil, the capital of Iraq's northern, autonomous Kurdish region, as Sunni rebels claimed to have completely overtaken the country's main oil refinery at Baiji, north of the capital, which has been under siege for ten days.

Iraqi forces have managed to push back the offensive on the refinery on several occasions, which supplies a third of the country’s refined fuel.

At one point militants were flying the black flag of Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isis) on one helicopter, while the government deployed helicopter gunships.

Mr Kerry met several top Iraqi leaders in Baghdad on Monday, including Mr Maliki. He said all the leaders agreed to start the process of seating a new government by 1 July, which will advance a constitutionally-required timetable for distributing power among Iraq's political blocs, which are divided by sect and ethnicity.

Scroll down to watch video

Mr Barzani's support is important because Kurds represent about 20 per cent of Iraq's population and usually vote as a unified bloc. That has made Kurds influential in Iraq's national political process.

Tensions have run deep for years between Mr Barzani and Mr Maliki, and recently surged again when the Kurdish regional government began exporting oil through Turkey without giving Baghdad a required share of the profits. The Kurdish region is home to several vast oil fields, which have reaped security and economic stability unmatched across the rest of the Iraq.

Read more: Islamists sweep towards Baghdad
Tony Blair admits 'removal of Saddam Hussein' is partly to blame

Once a stable government is in place, officials hope Iraqi security forces will be inspired to fight the insurgency instead of fleeing, as they did in several major cities and towns in Sunni-dominated areas since the start of the year.

US special forces began arriving in Baghdad this week to train and advise Iraqi counter-terror soldiers, under orders from President Barack Obama, who is reluctantly sending American military might back to the war zone it left in 2011 after more than eight years of fighting.

Mr Maliki has for months requested US military help to quell Isis, and the Obama administration has said it must respond to the insurgent threat before it spreads beyond Iraq's borders and puts the West at risk of attack.

Yesterday, Mr Kerry said the US is prepared to strike the militants even if Baghdad delays political reforms.

Additional reporting by agencies

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Direct Mail Machine Operative

£13500 - £15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity for an i...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Accounts Executive

£14000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity for the ...

Recruitment Genius: Team Administrator / Secretary - South East

£14000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Full time Administrator/Secreta...

Recruitment Genius: Parts Advisor

£16500 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the leading Mercedes-Ben...

Day In a Page

Why the cost of parenting has become so expensive

Why the cost of parenting has become so expensive

Today's pre-school child costs £35,000, according to Aviva. And that's but the tip of an iceberg, says DJ Taylor
Fifa corruption: The 161-page dossier that exposes the organisation's dark heart

The 161-page dossier that exposes Fifa's dark heart

How did a group of corrupt officials turn football’s governing body into what was, in essence, a criminal enterprise? Chris Green and David Connett reveal all
Mediterranean migrant crisis: 'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves,' says Tripoli PM

Exclusive interview with Tripoli PM Khalifa al-Ghweil

'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves'
Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles: How the author foretold the Californian water crisis

Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles

How the author foretold the Californian water crisis
Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison as authorities crackdown on dissent in the arts

Art attack

Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison
Marc Jacobs is putting Cher in the limelight as the face of his latest campaign

Cher is the new face of Marc Jacobs

Alexander Fury explains why designers are turning to august stars to front their lines
Parents of six-year-old who beat leukaemia plan to climb Ben Nevis for cancer charity

'I'm climbing Ben Nevis for my daughter'

Karen Attwood's young daughter Yasmin beat cancer. Now her family is about to take on a new challenge - scaling Ben Nevis to help other children
10 best wedding gift ideas

It's that time of year again... 10 best wedding gift ideas

Forget that fancy toaster, we've gone off-list to find memorable gifts that will last a lifetime
Paul Scholes column: With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards

Paul Scholes column

With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards
Heysel disaster 30th anniversary: Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget fateful day in Belgium

Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget Heysel

Thirty years ago, 39 fans waiting to watch a European Cup final died as a result of a fatal cocktail of circumstances. Ian Herbert looks at how a club dealt with this tragedy
Amir Khan vs Chris Algieri: Khan’s audition for Floyd Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation, says Frank Warren

Khan’s audition for Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation

The Bolton fighter could be damned if he dazzles and damned if he doesn’t against Algieri, the man last seen being decked six times by Pacquiao, says Frank Warren
Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

Fifa corruption arrests

All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US