The United States will speed up its deliveries of missiles and surveillance drones to Iraq as the country battles a resurgence of al Qaeda-linked militants in Anbar province, Washington said on Monday.
The Pentagon said the US would accelerate the delivery of 100 more Hellfire missiles, which were due to be sent to Iraq in the next few months. Some 75 Hellfire missiles, which can be fired from helicopters and warplanes, were delivered to Baghdad in mid-December, US officials confirmed.
Colonel Steven Warren said an additional 10 ScanEagle surveillance drones, a three-metre aircraft capable of flying for 24 hours, would also be delivered.
The deliveries correspond to contracts already signed with Iraq.
Warren said Washington was working with Iraq to develop a "holistic strategy to isolate al Qaeda-affiliated groups so the tribes working with the security forces can drive them out of the populated areas".
But he reiterated previous statements from US Secretary of State John Kerry that no American ground forces would be returning to Iraq to assist in military operations.
"We'll not be sending forces to Iraq," he said.
Instead, the United States will continue to provide intelligence to assist and advise the Iraqis at a "ministerial level" through some 100 military personnel still based at the US embassy in Baghdad.
Warren emphasised that US assistance would not extend to offering operational advice. "We're not doing tactical work with the Iraqis," he said.
Iraq has seen a resurgence of fighting in Anbar province, which was a key insurgent stronghold for years following the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq.
‘Suffering at the hands of terrorists’
In a phone call with Iraq’s Shiite Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, Vice President Joe Biden "expressed concern for those Iraqis who are suffering at the hands of terrorists", a US statement said.
"Maliki affirmed the importance of working closely with Iraq's Sunni leaders and communities to isolate extremists," the statement said.
Biden also spoke with Osama al-Nujaifi, the Sunni speaker of Iraq’s Council of Representatives.
Biden "praised the recent cooperation between Iraqi Security Forces and Sunni local, tribal and national leaders in the fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant currently unfolding in Anbar province," the White House said.
"Nujaifi reaffirmed his commitment to Iraq's fight against terrorism," the statement added.
Despite the withdrawal of US forces from Iraq at the end of 2011, the United States remains a key Iraqi security and defense partner, providing more than $14 billion in arms to Baghdad since 2005.
Following the renewed fighting, the White House has been forced to rebut claims that the militants are filling a vacuum left by the departure of US forces, noting that sectarian violence in Iraq was commonplace even when US troops were stationed in the country.
"There was sectarian conflict, violent sectarian conflict in Iraq when there were 150,000 US troops on the ground there," White House spokesman Jay Carney told a Monday press conference.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP)
Date created : 2014-01-07