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Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki met with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry in Baghdad on June 23. / Brendan Smialowski, AP

Secretary of State John Kerry warned regional powers Wednesday against trying to exploit rising sectarian tensions in Iraq in the wake of reports that Syrian aircraft bombed rebel targets in Iraq.

"We've made it clear to everyone in the region that we don't need anything to take place that might exacerbate the sectarian divisions that are already at a heightened level of tension," Kerry said at a NATO meeting in Brussels.

The United States confirmed that Syrian warplanes bombed militants' positions Tuesday in and near the Iraqi border crossing in the town of Qaim. Iraq's other neighbors - Jordan, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Turkey - were bolstering flights just inside their airspace to monitor the situation, the Associated Press reported.

The target was the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, the Sunni extremist group that has seized large swaths of Iraq's north and west in recent weeks and seeks to create an Islamic territory across both sides of the Syria-Iraq border.

Syria's embattled leader, Bashar Assad, is fighting the same radical Sunni militants who are on the attack against the Shiite-dominated government of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

Kerry referred to reports of Iranian Revolutionary Guard personnel getting involved in Iraq. Iran's Shiite government has been supporting al-Maliki's government in its fight against Sunni extremists.

The conflict has been "widened, obviously, in the last days with the reports of (Iranian Revolutionary Guard) personnel, of some people from Iran being engaged in Iraq" and recent Syrian activities, Kerry said.

Kerry and President Obama have urged al-Maliki to form an inclusive government that would lessen sectarian tensions in the country.

"That's one of the reasons why government formation is so urgent, so that the leaders of Iraq can begin to make decisions necessary to protect Iraq without outside forces moving to fill a vacuum," Kerry said.

Al-Maliki bristled under pressure from the United States to create a more inclusive government. "The call to form a national salvation government represents a coup against the constitution and the political process," al-Maliki said Wednesday.

He insisted the political process must proceed after recent national elections in which his bloc won the largest share of parliament seats.

Kerry, who visited Iraq this week and met with al-Maliki and other leaders, said he was confident al-Maliki was moving in the right direction despite his remarks.

"What he said today with respect to the things we talked about was entirely in line with the conversations that I had with him when I was there," Kerry said.

Al-Maliki's political bloc won 92 of the 328 seats in parliamentary elections in April but did not claim the overall majority and has been unable to form a coalition government. The parliament is to meet before the end of the month to elect a speaker. It has 30 days to elect a new president, who in turn will select the leader of the majority bloc in parliament to form the next government.

Contributing: The Associated Press



Copyright 2014USAToday

Read the original story: Kerry warns region against interfering with Iraq

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