In Brief

Iraq: new government opens way for US military expansion

United States hails new Iraqi cabinet as a milestone in the fight against Islamic State militants

The creation of new government in Iraq after weeks of negotiations has been hailed as a major milestone in the fight against Islamic State, opening the way for more US military support.

US president Barack Obama was one of the first to congratulate the new Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi on forming the new cabinet, which is divided between the Shi'ite majority, Sunnis and Kurds.

Abadi, who has also appointed a deputy from each of the groups, vowed to "allow all people in Iraq to participate in liberating the cities and provinces which have been taken over by terrorist groups... and to bring back security and stability".

The final vote to approve the cabinet did not go entirely smoothly. The Washington Post says it came during a "fiery late-night parliamentary session", with key positions in defence and security left open amid disagreement over who would fill them. Abadi said he would name candidates for those positions within a week.

Secretary of State John Kerry, who is travelling to Saudi Arabia and Jordan in a bid to build a coalition to confront Islamic State, said the new government had the "potential to unite all of Iraq's diverse communities".

The inclusion of Sunnis in the new cabinet is key and it is hoped the move will generate support for Baghdad among the Sunni population in areas controlled by Islamic State and turn them against the extremists, says BBC's Jim Muir.

The US previously made a united Iraqi government one of the conditions for an increase in military assistance. Obama is expected to unveil his strategy to combat the militants tomorrow. He has already sanctioned dozens of air strikes against the militants in Iraq but has ruled out the possibility of a US ground operation.

Muir says the task ahead is "clearly massive", with militants still in control of large swathes of Iraq and Syria. "Among other things, the Iraqi army is in a state of disarray," he says. "And much of the recent fighting has been done by Shia militia, strengthening the element of sectarian civil strife that will have to be eliminated if the Islamic State radicals are to be isolated and crushed, without whole communities being destroyed."

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