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LONDON — Years of investing in Iraq with time, money and lives of American soldiers are the reasons the U.S. is considering new military action to quell a fast-moving insurgency that has taken key areas of northern Iraq and vows to march on Baghdad while still resisting direct involvement in neighboring Syria's civil war, Secretary of State John Kerry said Friday.
He said the Sunni insurgency, which has swept to control of several cities in Iraq's west and north, is also plotting against American and Western interests.
Known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, the brutal insurgency has brought Iraq back to the forefront of U.S. foreign policy as the Obama administration debates how deeply to intervene halfway around the world. President Barack Obama has touted his decision to end the war in 2011 as one of his administration's key successes.
Kerry said no decision had been made as of Friday as to whether the U.S. military would help Iraq beat back the insurgency. The Iraqi government has asked for U.S. airstrikes to target terrorists, and the Obama administration is weighing whether to do so.
Kerry said a decision would be made soon.
"Iraq is a country we've had a very direct relationship with, very direct investment and engagement with, not to mention the lives of our soldiers who were lost there, providing this opportunity to them," Kerry told reporters at the end of a conference in London on combating sexual violence in conflict zones. "And I don't think anybody in the region, or in this administration, believes it is in the interest of the United States to turn our backs on that."
He said the U.S. is "laser focused" on helping Iraq.
Nearly 4,500 U.S. troops were killed in the war that began with a 2003 invasion led by the U.S., and the conflict cost American taxpayers hundreds of billions of dollars.
There were signs that pulling together another international coalition — which Obama said in his recent West Point foreign policy speech was his preferred method of military intervention — on Iraq would be difficult.
British Foreign Secretary William Hague said the U.K. is not prepared to offer military intervention in Iraq. London's reluctance to provide military action in Syria last year was a driving factor in the White House refusal to launch air strikes there. The German foreign minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, said Friday that the Sunni-led insurgency was a powerful force that could make preventing a partitioned Iraq very difficult.
Kerry also briefly cited evidence of plots that the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant has built against the United States and the West, but he did not provide any details. Kerry described ISIL as a "terrorist enemy" that has threatened the U.S. and West. He said the insurgent network, which is inspired by if not directly linked to al-Qaida, "has been plotting and looking for opportunities to take on the West."
Obama made clear in the speech at the U.S. Military Academy on May 27 that he believes unilateral American military action should be reserved for instances in which core national interests are challenged or the public's safety is in jeopardy.