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US mulls drone strikes amid Islamist onslaught in Iraq

© Photo: AFP

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2014-06-12

Officials in Washington say Iraqi leaders have requested the use of US air strikes to curb a violent Islamist insurgency in the country’s north as the Obama administration considers what aid to offer an Iraqi government in which many have lost faith.

The United States is preparing to send new aid to Iraq to help slow the Islamist militants’ lighting offensive, which has already conquered four cities, and threatens to take over the northern part of the country.

However, the White House has so far hesitated to fulfill alleged Iraqi demands to use air strikes to weaken the insurgent Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) movement.

Obama’s national security council spokeswoman Bernadette Meehan said the US administration was looking at range of options, but that it was focusing its efforts on strengthening Iraqi security forces to confront the Islamist offensive.

US officials speaking under condition of anonymity said Obama was mulling the potential use of drone strikes, but that no decision had been made.

In a statement issued Wednesday night, the White House limited itself to declaring that it would work with Congress to provide “flexibility and resources” to help Iraq respond to the insurgency.

Resorting to drone strikes – which remain highly controversial in Afghanistan and Pakistan – would mark a dramatic shift in the US engagement in Iraq, after the last American troops pulled out in late 2011.

US State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki insisted on Wednesday that there were no plans to send US troops back to Iraq, where around 4,500 Americans died in the eight-year conflict.

Down on Maliki

Speaking to reporters on Wedneday, White House spokesman Jay Carney said the US would continue to “stand with Iraqi leaders across the political spectrum as they forge the national unity necessary to succeed in the fight against ISIL.”

But there was growing skepticism among leaders in Washington about Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s ability to lead the conflict-torn country.

Senior members of the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee said Maliki had failed in the task of bringing Iraqi’s diverse populations together, and expressed doubt he would be able to build a coalition capable of fighting back ISIL.

Maliki’s Shiite-led government has been criticized for targeting Sunni political opponents and thus inflaming sectarian tensions across the oil-rich country.

Meeting at the UN

While the US weighs the kind of military assistance it will provide to Maliki, the UN Security Council swiftly convened a meeting to discuss the crisis in a sign of growing international alarm over the situation.

Diplomats said the closed consultations would begin at 11:30 a.m. (15:30 GMT) and will include a briefing by video link from the UN special representative to Iraq, Nickolay Mladenov.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged the international community to unite behind the country, warning that “terrorism must not be allowed to succeed in undoing the path toward democracy in Iraq.”

(FRANCE 24 with AP, AFP, REUTERS)

Date created : 2014-06-12

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