Kerry said the militants are trying to destabilise the region and undermine a democratic process in Iraq, and that the US is in contact with tribal leaders in Anbar province who are standing up to the terrorists.
But, he said, “this is a fight that belongs to the Iraqis. That is exactly what the president and the world decided some time ago when we left Iraq, so we are not obviously contemplating returning. We are not contemplating putting boots on the ground. This is their fight . . . We will help them, but this fight, in the end, they will have to win and I am confident they can.”
His comments came as the Iraqi military tried to dislodge al Qaeda militants in Sunni-dominated Anbar province yesterday, unleashing airstrikes and besieging the regional capital in fighting that killed at least 34 people, officials said.
A series of bombs in Shi’ite neighbourhoods of Baghdad also killed at least 20 people.
The recent gains by the insurgents have been a blow to the Shi’ite-led government as sectarian violence has escalated since the US withdrawal.
Kerry said Washington was “very, very concerned” by the fighting but insisted US troops would not be sent in.
Video of the airstrikes in Anbar — apparently taken by aircraft at night — was released by Iraq’s Defence Ministry showing al Qaeda hideouts being bombarded.
A ministry statement said the air force struck a militants’ hideout on Saturday night, identifying them as belonging to the al Qaeda-linked Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, which the government refers to as “terrorists”.
The army and allied tribesmen also fought al Qaeda militants around the provincial capital of Ramadi yesterday, two Anbar government officials told The Associated Press.
They said 22 soldiers and 12 civilians were killed, along with an unknown number of militants, and 58 people were wounded.
Clans inside the city of Fallujah have started to form brigades, they said, and some of the factions who fought the Americans following the US-led invasion a decade ago say they do not want the Iraqi army to enter the city.
Government troops, backed by Sunni tribesmen who oppose al Qaeda, have encircled Fallujah for several days and have entered parts of Ramadi.