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11 Jun, 2014 23:29

Iraq open to US airstrikes against jihadists - reports

Iraq open to US airstrikes against jihadists - reports

Iraq has privately indicated to the Obama administration that it would welcome airstrikes with either drones or manned aircraft that target Al-Qaeda offshoot militants in Iraqi territory, US officials say.

A senior US official said the Obama administration is considering options in aiding the Iraqi government’s fight against Islamist militants, who have fought for and won major gains in the nation’s Sunni-majority areas in recent days, the Wall Street Journal reported.

Those options include “kinetic support” for the Iraqi military in its fight against an Islamist group formerly allied with Al-Qaeda – the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS/ISIL). The group seized two major cities north of Baghdad this week, handily defeating Iraqi security forces along the way, according to reports.

No decisions on action in Iraq have been made, according to the senior official.

The Wall Street Journal sources did not specify whether airstrikes would come from unmanned drones or manned aircraft.

Bernadette Meehan, a spokeswoman for the National Security Council, did not comment on Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s requests for military support, saying in a statement that “We are not going to get into details of our diplomatic discussions, but the government of Iraq has made clear that they welcome our support.”

Iraq had previously asked the US for access to armed drones that could be used against insurgent forces, many of which have been emboldened by the fierce civil war in neighboring Syria. Washington has thus far refused to supply those drones, officials said, but has supplied Hellfire missiles and surveillance drones.

Last year, Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari suggested that armed drones could be used to target militants, but American officials balked, saying the request did not come from Maliki, The New York Times reported.

Meanwhile, Iraq is requesting the hastened delivery of major weapons orders, including dozens of F-16 fighter jets contracted with Lockheed Martin and dozens of Boeing’s Apache helicopters, to counter the insurgent fighters.

Iraqi families fleeing violence in the northern Nineveh province gather at a Kurdish checkpoint in Aski kalak, 40 kms West of Arbil, in the autonomous Kurdistan region (AFP Photo / Safin Hamed)

"What we are saying is that there needs to be a sense of urgency," Lukman Faily, Iraq's ambassador to the US, told The Wall Street Journal. "We now expect the US to appreciate this sense of urgency."

Faily said “what we need” is the delivery of the jets and Apaches as soon as possible, not months away as is planned.

"Ammunition, Hellfire missiles, surveillance equipment...these are not game-changers," he said. "We need game-changers."

Already this week, ISIL has taken control of Mosul and Tikrit, the nation’s second-largest city and former president Saddam Hussein’s hometown, respectively.

Meanwhile, in the city of Samarra, located further south of Tikrit on the east bank of the Tigris River, clashes reportedly broke out on Wednesday between Iraqi forces and militants arriving in trucks with machine guns, according to AFP. Samarra, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is home to several holy sites for Shia Muslims.

A military source told Al Arabiya news channel that Kurdish forces are reportedly fighting ISIL militants in Kirkuk to stop their offensive.

Earlier, ISIL boasted the capture of Iraq’s biggest oil refinery north of the city of Baiji, claiming it had “seized it without a shot.” The oil refinery, located less than 180 kilometers (110 miles) from Mosul, was one of the strategic objects secured by US-led forces in the 2003 invasion of Iraq and was thoroughly searched for weapons of mass destruction. No chemical agents were ever found there.

The United Nations Security Council condemned ISIL’s latest offensives, saying in a statement that "the recent terrorist attacks ... are being perpetrated against the people of Iraq in an attempt to destabilize the country and region."

"The Security Council deplored in the strongest terms the recent events in the city of Mosul in Iraq where elements of the terrorist organization ... ISIL have taken over significant parts of the city, including the Turkish Consulate and many government buildings, and displaced hundreds of thousands of people," the council said.

ISIL has already established major footholds throughout north and west Iraq, areas close to the Syrian border. Fallujah, a major city just west of Baghdad and the site of major battles following the US-led invasion in 2003, fell to ISIL months ago.