Hague meets Kurdish leaders after flying to northern Iraq

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Foreign Secretary William Hague has held talks with Kurdish leaders in northern Iraq in a bid to rally opposition to Isis extremists threatening to tear the country apart.

Mr Hague announced on his Twitter feed early yesterday that he had arrived in the city of Irbil to meet Kurdish regional government leaders.

Following talks in Baghdad with Prime Minister Nouri Maliki on Thursday, Mr Hague warned that Iraq was facing an “existential threat” as he appealed to the country’s political leaders to set aside sectarian differences and form an inclusive government for “stability and freedom”.

Mr Maliki – who is criticised for favouring the interests of the Shia population – has already insisted that introducing an emergency administration would amount to a “coup against the constitution” after he won elections in April.

Mr Hague said the UK would press for action at the United Nations to stem the flow of arms to insurgents and cut their access to finance. He also pledged to use “the full force of the law” to stop British citizens heading to the region to join the fight.

“The Iraqi state faces an existential threat, and the growth and expansion of the area controlled by Isis... will have huge ramifications for the future stability and freedom of this country and many other countries,” Mr Hague said.

“We believe the single most important factor that will determine whether or not Iraq overcomes this challenge is political unity.”

Meanwhile Iraq’s leading Shiite cleric has called on the nation’s political blocs to agree on the next prime minister before the newly elected parliament sits on Tuesday.

The Iranian-born grand ayatollah Ali al-Sistani also wants them to agree on the next parliament speaker and the president before the inaugural session.

A cleric representing Mr al-Sistani told worshippers in the holy city of Karbala that selecting the three before parliament meets would be a “prelude to the political solution that everyone seeks at the present”.

The urgency reflects the deep crisis in Iraq after Sunni militants blitzed through the north and west this month, capturing vast areas of territory, including the second-largest city, Mosul.