BEIRUT — Secretary of State John F. Kerry said Sunday that the United States is ready to help Iraq in any way possible as that country began a major offensive to wrest control of two cities from al-Qaeda-linked militants. But he made it clear that no American troops would be sent in.
Kerry described the militants from the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, as “the most dangerous players” in the region. But as Iraqi forces launched airstrikes and clashed with the militants in western Anbar province on Sunday, Kerry said it was Iraq’s battle to fight.
ISIS, formerly known as al-Qaeda in Iraq but renamed to reflect the group’s growing ambitions, has been extending its influence across Syria, Iraq and Lebanon. It is suffering a backlash in Syria, where it lost ground to rival rebel fighters on Sunday. But the Sunni militants’ gains in Iraq present a critical test for the Shiite-led government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.
They also leave the Obama administration worried about the renewed force of a militant movement once declared all but vanquished in Iraq.