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Iraq asks for airstrikes as US considers options

By Associated Press in Baghdad | China Daily | Updated: 2014-06-20 07:22

Al-Maliki appeals for national unity, with focus on defeating insurgents

Iraq has asked the United States to launch airstrikes to beat back militants holding vast territories across its north, a decision Washington mulled over on Wednesday as insurgents pressed an assault on the country's largest oil refinery.

US President Barack Obama briefed leaders of Congress on options for quelling the insurgency by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, which launched an offensive across Iraq more than a week ago. While Obama has not fully ruled out the possibility of launching airstrikes, such action is not imminent, officials said, in part because intelligence agencies have been unable to identify clear targets on the ground.

Instead, the US pushed Iraq to unite against the militants, with Vice-President Joe Biden offering praise to the country's Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish leaders as a means to temper the sectarian anger roiling the country.

It's unclear whether that will work, as Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's Shiite-led government has faced wide-spread dissatisfaction from its people despite coming out ahead in recent parliamentary elections.

Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari said on Wednesday that his country had formally asked the US to launch airstrikes against against positions of the Islamic State.

Gen. Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, confirmed the US had received a request for air power to stop the militants, but highlighted the uncertain political situation in Iraq.

"The entire enterprise is at risk as long as this political situation is in flux," he told a Senate panel on Wednesday. He added that some Iraqi security forces had backed down when confronted by the militants because they had "simply lost faith" in the central government in Baghdad.

Reconciliation attempt

Al-Maliki, a Shiite, has rejected charges of sectarian bias and instead said the crisis has led Iraqis to rediscover "national unity".

He appeared on television late on Tuesday with Sunni and Kurdish leaders. They issued a joint statement about the need to close ranks and stick to "national priorities" in the face of the threat posed by the militants.

On Wednesday, al-Maliki spoke in a televised address, saying he was optimistic over what he called the rise by all political groups to the challenge of defending the nation against the militant threat.

"I tell all the brothers there have been negative practices by members of the military, civilians and militiamen, but that is not what we should be discussing," al-Maliki said. "Our effort should not be focused here and leave the larger objective of defeating" the militants.

Still, al-Maliki has yet to demonstrate concrete action to bridge differences with Sunnis and Kurds, who have been at loggerheads with the prime minister over their right to independently export oil and over territorial claims.

The discussions over tactics came as Iraq's military said government forces had repelled repeated attacks by the militants on the country's largest oil refinery and retaken parts of the strategic city of Tal Afar, near the Syrian border.

The chief military spokes-man, Lt. Gen. Qassimal-Moussawi, said Iraqi troops had defended the refinery at Beiji, some 250 km north of Baghdad, and 40 attackers were killed in fighting there over-night and early on Wednesday.

 Iraq asks for airstrikes as US considers options

Newly-recruited Iraqi volunteers in police uniforms attend a training session at the Ibrahimiya police camp outside the central Iraqi Shiite city of Karbala on Thursday, as thousands of Shiite volunteers join Iraqi security forces in the fight against Jihadist militants who have taken over several northern Iraqi cities this week. Mohammed Sawaf / Agence France-Presse

(China Daily 06/20/2014 page11)

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