Iraq formally appeals for US air strikes as jihadists advance

Iraq formally appeals for US air strikes as jihadists advance
This undated photo shows jihadists of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant marching through Syria’s Raqqa. They have crossed the border and taken over several cities and town in norther Iraq.
BAGHDAD: Iraq asked the United States on Wednesday to carry out air strikes on Sunni jihadists, who attacked the country’s main oil refinery and seized more territory in the north.The appeal came as fighters from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) were pressing a week-long offensive that has brought them close to the capital, and as Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki pledging to face down “terrorism.””Iraq has officially asked Washington to help under the security agreement (between the two countries), and to conduct air strikes against terrorist groups,” Zebari told reporters in Saudi Arabia. However, Zebari said “a military approach will not be enough. We acknowledge the need for drastic political solutions.”

The United States spent millions of dollars over several years training and arming a new Iraqi army after disbanding the Sunni-led force created by the late dictator Saddam Hussein.

Iraqi soldiers chant slogans against the ISIS jihadists.Washington has already deployed an aircraft carrier to the Gulf and sent marines to bolster security at its embassy in Baghdad, but President Barack Obama has insisted a return to combat in Iraq for US soldiers is not on the cards.
US has deployed its aircraft carrier USS George HW Bush in the Gulf for possible use against ISIS.

However, secretary of state John Kerry has said drone strikes could be used.

Maliki vowed on television that “we will face terrorism and bring down the conspiracy,” adding that “we will teach (the jihadists) a lesson and strike them.”

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is a Shia.

He also said the country’s security forces, which wilted in the face of a major militant offensive that overran all of one province and chunks of three more in a matter of days last week, had suffered a “setback” but had not been defeated.

Maliki security spokesman Lieutenant General Qassem Atta later said security forces would retake by Thursday morning full control of Tal Afar, a Shia town in the north that lies along a strategic corridor to Syria. That would provide a base from which to launch operations to recapture Mosul.

An Iraqi soldier aims his artillery gun against the jihadists in northern Iraq.

With regional tensions rising, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said the Islamic republic “will do everything” to protect Shia shrines in Iraqi cities against the militant assault.

And Saudi Arabia warned of the risks of a civil war in Iraq with unpredictable consequences for the region, while the United Arab Emirates recalled its envoy to Baghdad, voicing concern over “exclusionary and sectarian policies.”

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani. 

The crisis, which has displaced hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, threatens to break the country apart, while the assault on Baiji oil refinery on Wednesday further spooked international oil markets.

Brent crude for August delivery added three cents to $113.48 per barrel just after midday in London.

US benchmark West Texas Intermediate for July delivery picked up 34 cents to $106.73 a barrel.

Pre-dawn attack

The attack on the refinery complex, in Salaheddin province north of Baghdad, was launched before dawn, officials said. Atta said Iraqi forces managed to kill 40 militants and repel the attack, but that some tanks containing refined products caught fire.

READ ALSO: Jihadists control ‘75%’ of Iraq’s largest oil refinery

The refinery was shut down and some employees evacuated on Tuesday due to a drop in demand caused by the jihadist drive.

The oil refinery in Baiji in northern Iraq.

World oil producers have cautiously watched the unfolding chaos in Iraq, which currently exports around 2.5 million barrels of oil per day. They have stressed that the country’s vast crude supplies, mostly in the south, are safe — for now.

The jihadists’ swift advance has sparked international alarm, with the UN’s envoy to Baghdad warning that the crisis was “life-threatening for Iraq.”

ISIS jihadists leading captured Iraqi soldiers in Tikrit before summarily executing them.

Analysts suggested that the country could unravel, surviving at best as a federal state.

John Drake, an expert on Iraq with British security group AKE, was asked if Iraq could remain united.

“I don’t think it’s impossible, but it is highly unlikely,” was his verdict.

Police and officials reported that the jihadists had moved into the Shia Turkmen area of Bashir in Kirkuk province and also seized three villages in Salaheddin province on Wednesday.

Kurdish security forces detain a man suspected of being an ISIS jihadist.

Meanwhile, the Indian foreign ministry announced that 40 Indian construction workers had been abducted in Mosul, the first city to fall in the offensive.
Spokesman Syed Akbaruddin said 46 Indian nurses were also stranded in the militant-held city of Tikrit.

READ ALSO: India in dark about location of its kidnapped nationals in Iraq

Last week, as the offensive got underway ISIS fighters kidnapped 49 Turks in Mosul, including diplomats and children, after earlier seizing 31 Turkish truck drivers.

In a bid to see off the offensive, Maliki sacked several top security commanders on Tuesday evening, then stood alongside several of his main rivals in a rare display of unity among the country’s fractious political leaders.

Iraqi Shia women shout slogans supporting the Iraqi army in Najaf.

The dismissals came after soldiers and police fled en masse as insurgents swept into Mosul, a city of two million, on June 10.

Some abandoned their vehicles and uniforms when faced with the insurgents, which are led by ISIS fighters but also include loyalists of executed dictator Saddam Hussein. After taking Mosul, militants captured a major chunk of mainly Sunni Arab territory stretching towards the capital.

A Kurdhish Peshmerga fighter takes a position overlooking ISIS jihadists’ positions.

Despite security forces’ initial poor performance, Pentagon spokesman Rear Admiral John Kirby said Iraqi troops, with help from Shia volunteers, were “stiffening their resistance” around Baghdad.


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