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Obama Congratulates Iraq, Stresses Need To Fight Militants

Iraq's new Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi (left) and Iraqi President Fuad Massum speak during the session to approve the new government in Baghdad on September 8.
Iraq's new Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi (left) and Iraqi President Fuad Massum speak during the session to approve the new government in Baghdad on September 8.

U.S. President Barack Obama has congratulated Iraq on the approval of a new government and called for close cooperation against Islamic State militants.

The White House says Obama called Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi to congratulate him and the Iraqi people after parliament approved a new government on September 8.

"The president applauded the efforts of Prime Minister Abadi and other Iraqi leaders in forming a new, broad-based government, and underscored the need for the United States and Iraq to continue working closely with the international community to build on recent actions to counter the threat posed by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL)," a White House statement said, using an alternate name for Islamic State.

It said Abadi "expressed his commitment to work with all communities in Iraq as well as regional and international partners to strengthen Iraq’s capabilities to fight against this common enemy."

It said the leaders agreed the government should "quickly take concrete steps to address the aspirations and legitimate grievances of the Iraqi people."

The United States and other countries had been pushing Iraqi politicians to form a more representative government to win back support of the Sunni minority in Iraq that felt marginalized under the previous prime minister, Nuri al-Maliki, and his government.

Many believe the Sunnis' anger at being sidelined on governing Iraq led to the rapid military advance into the country of militants from Islamic State (IS), a Sunni extremist group, which has created one of the largest humanitarian crises in Iraq in years.

The Iraqi parliament approved former Prime Ministers Maliki and Iyad Allawi and former parliament speaker Usama al-Nujaifi for largely ceremonial vice presidential posts.

Sunni politician Saleh al-Mutlak, Kurdish outgoing Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari, and Bahaa al-Aaraji of the Shi'ite Sadrist bloc were named deputy prime ministers.

Former Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari will be foreign minister.

Parliament reportedly approved all of Abadi's nominations for cabinet posts except for the defense and interior ministers.

Abadi said he was waiting to nominate someone for those two posts pending further consultations and would propose candidates to parliament within a week.

Islamic State militants continue to hold large patches of territory in northern and western Iraq, although Kurdish Peshmerga fighters, Iraqi government forces, and Shi'ite militias backed by U.S. air strikes have been slowly pushing IS militants back.

The fighting has forced hundreds of thousands of Iraqis to flee their homes as IS militants quickly gained a reputation for slaughtering non-Sunni groups in Iraq that would not agree to convert or pay a special tax to remain.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is due to travel to Jordan and Saudi Arabia later this week to discuss common resistance to IS militants.

U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel was on a similar mission on September 8 in Turkey where he met with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Many of the foreign fighters coming to join the IS are believed to be entering Syria through Turkey.

The bulk of IS fighters, up to some 40,000, are fighting in Syria against the government of President Bashar al-Assad, where they are also accused of carrying out atrocities.

With reporting by Reuters, AFP, AP, and dpa
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