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By Roy Gutman, McClatchy Foreign Staff

BAGHDAD — U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry raised the possibility Wednesday that U.S. troops might be committed to ground operations in Iraq in extreme circumstances, the first hedging by an administration official on President Barack Obama’s pledge that there will be no U.S. boots on the ground to battle the Islamic State.

Kerry made the comment during a news conference after a day of meeting with Iraqi officials, who he said hadn’t requested or shown any desire to have U.S. troops or forces from any nation in Iraq to confront the Islamic State, the extremist organization that’s now in control of more than a third of the country’s territory.

Kerry reiterated that Obama has said no U.S. combat troops would be deployed to fight the Islamic State in Iraq, before adding, “Unless, obviously, something very, very dramatic changes.”

That formulation hasn’t been used previously by administration officials in discussing the growing U.S. confrontation with the Islamic State, and it’s sure to feed concerns that the United States may be making a greater commitment to a new conflict in the Middle East than it first intended.

In announcing the authorization for U.S. airstrikes in Iraq in August, Obama said they’d be limited to preventing Islamic State attacks on the Yazidi religious minority and to stopping any Islamic State advance on the Kurdish capital of Irbil. Since then, the United States has provided close air support for Kurdish troops fighting to recapture the Mosul Dam, Iranian-trained Shiite Muslim militias breaking the Islamic State siege of Amerli, and Sunni Muslim tribesmen battling to push Islamic State forces from towns near Haditha.

Kerry didn’t elaborate on what dramatic change might prompt the United States to commit ground forces, and it wasn’t clear whether his statement reflected administration policy. There was no immediate reaction from the White House.

Kerry said Iraqi leaders had promised him that they’d move swiftly to resolve the grievances of the Sunni and Kurdish communities, both of which are unhappy with the way the new Iraqi government was assembled.

Kerry praised the newly elected government, headed by veteran Shiite politician Haider al-Abadi, and said he’d received assurances that addressing the grievances of Iraq’s Sunni Arabs and Kurds was a top priority of the government.

He said Obama had sent him on the unannounced visit “to underscore to the people of Iraq that we will stand by them in this effort … and overcome the threat they face today.”

AFP Photo/Lucas Jackson

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