CAIRO — Secretary of State John F. Kerry, on a Middle East mission to help stave off the unraveling of Iraq, said Sunday it was up to the Iraqi people to decide who should lead them.
At a news conference in Cairo, Kerry said Washington was not trying to orchestrate the ouster of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, a Shiite. But Kerry pointed to Kurds, Sunnis and some fellow Shiites expressing dissatisfaction with Maliki's leadership, and stressed the need for a government in Baghdad that will "represent all the Iraqi people."
Kerry, starting his regional trip with a stop in Cairo, also sought to dampen Arab states' funding of opposition groups in Syria, pointing to the Iraq crisis as proof of the dangers of the spillover effect of the Syrian civil war.
He met Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi for the first time since the former military chief took office two weeks ago. Kerry voiced support for more personal freedoms for Egyptians, but also employed conciliatory rhetoric meant to repair a relationship soured by mistrust in nearly a year since el-Sissi led a military coup against his democratically elected predecessor, Mohammed Morsi.
The firestorm in Iraq heightens the strategic importance of a stable alliance between Washington and Cairo.