By Dasha Afanasieva
ISTANBUL (Reuters) - Iraq needs more inclusive governance across sectarian and religious divides if it is to end its turmoil, something only its own politicians can deliver, one of the United Nations' top officials said on Friday.
Helen Clark, head of the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and the world body's third most senior figure, said only a political solution in Iraq, and in neighboring Syria, could end the crises.
"The political leaders need to come together to plan how you can run Iraq within its current borders," the former New Zealand prime minister told Reuters in an interview in Istanbul.
"Iraq must solve its own problems ... People have to want one country," she said, when asked if that was possible without foreign military intervention.
U.S. President Barack Obama held off granting a request for air strikes from Iraq's Shi'ite-led government on Friday but offered up to 300 Americans to help contain a lightening offensive by Sunni insurgents, amid an unfolding humanitarian crisis with hundreds of thousands displaced. [ID:nL6N0P12GT]
Obama renewed a call for Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki to do more to overcome sectarian divisions that have fueled resentment among the Sunni minority.
The United Nations warned this week that the Middle East appears on the brink of wider sectarian war engulfing Iraq and Syria, with radical Islamist insurgents kidnapping, torturing and killing civilians. [ID:nL5N0OX64I]
Militants from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), who view Shi'ites as heretics to be wiped out, have carved out territory where they aim to found an Islamic caliphate straddling the Iraqi-Syrian border.
"No religion condones what is happening to people in these terrible conflicts," said Clark, 64.
A Sunni-led uprising against Syria's Alawite President Bashar Al-Assad has killed 160,000 people and displaced millions in a neighboring conflict which Clark described as a "horror that people would not have necessarily anticipated".
U.N. efforts to resolve Syria's three-year civil war have stalled. Like others before him, mediator Lakhdar Brahimi quit out of frustration in May, blaming an international deadlock that hampered his ability to broker peace.
There are no immediate plans to bring the warring sides back to the negotiating table.
"It takes two to tango ... You can't make people want to talk," Clark said.
"They can see what's happening to the country, to the people. That it's in ruins, the economy is in ruins, infrastructure in ruins, society in ruins. At what point do people say 'enough'?"
(Editing by Nick Tattersall and Robin Pomeroy)