Kerry in Iraq: The U.S. confers on the fate of an embattled country

Americans can assume that Secretary of State John Kerry was in Baghdad on Monday to see if Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Kamal al-Maliki could make a case that would justify further U.S. support for his regime.

The visit also let Kerry judge the state of play with the country's more moderate Sunni and Kurdish leaders in light of the rapid advance toward Baghdad of forces from the extreme Sunni movement, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.

After a round of meetings with various Iraqi leaders, Kerry warned that they should devise a new, inclusive government that would represent the interests of the nation's competing factions. He also said that the Iraqi people, not the United States or any other country, should choose the country's leadership.

It is difficult to imagine what useful information Kerry might have obtained from Maliki. The Sunnis and Kurds will almost certainly insist that Maliki depart from the scene, or that he put into place power-sharing arrangements with both of them. He is unlikely to resign, believing as he probably does that he can hold onto power by enlisting Shiite militias alongside his failed national army to defend him.

With respect to the Sunnis, let's hope Kerry and President Barack Obama aren't thinking about trying to buy them off again with cash, as the United States did in the throes of the Iraq War. ISIS already has plenty of cash, scooped up as it has advanced from city to city across the Sunni heartland. The moderate Sunnis are unlikely, even for large sums of money, to fight the well-armed and highly motivated ISIS partisans.

The 300 Special Operations forces that Obama is thinking about sending should be put into the so-called Green Zone, where most of the 5,000 Americans in Iraq are, to be able to carry out helicopter rescues to avoid a massacre or hostage situation.

What Washington should be seeking is not to save Mr. Maliki and his Shiite government but to establish lines to what is coming in Iraq - Kurdish, Sunni and Shiite segments, each with different governments in place and each with oil to sell. Such a practical policy would be more rooted in anticipating events than trying to save face.

—The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, June 24


Pope Francis targets the mob with excommunication

The families that make up the crime syndicates known as the Mafia may believe they're above civil law, but they got a rude awakening last week from a key spiritual leader.

During a trip to southern Italy, Pope Francis warned that those involved in "the adoration of evil" are subject to God's law even more than man's law. His rebuke was triggered by the murder of a 3-year-old child in Calabria during a mob hit targeting his grandfather. The killing infuriated the nation.

Without naming individuals involved in organized crime, the pope excommunicated those who live a double life as pious Catholics on Sunday while engaging in murder, extortion, blackmail, human trafficking, theft and other heinous acts the rest of the week.

The pope left no wiggle room for Catholic mobsters who believe generous donations to church coffers and charities will redeem their evil deeds. It was a much-needed reiteration of basic church teaching that paying lip service to God is an abomination if one's deeds are evil.

Pope Francis isn't the first modern pontiff to confront the mob, but he is the first to excommunicate its members. It will be up to the priests giving Holy Communion to urge criminals in the pews to search their consciences.

—The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, June 26