US mulls air strikes as Iraq militants close in on capital Baghdad

With the al Qaeda inspired militants pushing deeper into the Sunni heartland of Baghdad, the government of Iraq has reportedly told the US administration of President Barack Obama that it is ready for air strikes with either drones or manned aircraft that target the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) extremists in the Iraqi territory.

Zee Media Bureau/Ritesh K Srivastava

Baghdad: With the al Qaeda inspired militants pushing deeper into the Sunni heartland of Baghdad, the government of Iraq has reportedly told the US administration of President Barack Obama that it is ready for air strikes with either drones or manned aircraft that target the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) extremists in the Iraqi territory.

This comes hours after militants seized the Iraqi city of Tikrit as pushed closer to Baghdad, prompting the UN Security Council to convene crisis talks on Thursday.

The ISIL seized the second city of Mosul on Tuesday and has since captured a large swathe of northern and north-central Iraq, including Tikrit, the hometown of executed dictator Saddam Hussain.

ISIL spokesman Abu Mohammad Al Adnani promised the battle would “rage” on the capital Baghdad and Karbala, a city southwest of the capital that is considered one of the holiest sites for Shiite Muslims, the SITE Intelligence Group said.

The UN Security Council swiftly convened a meeting to discuss the crisis in a sign of growing international alarm at the fast-moving situation.

Diplomats said the closed consultations would begin at 11:30am (1530 GMT) and will include a briefing by video link from the UN special representative to Iraq, Nickolay Mladenov.

Washington is considering several options for offering military assistance to Baghdad, including drone strikes, a US official told AFP on condition of anonymity.

Resorting to such aircraft - used in Afghanistan and Pakistan in a highly controversial programme - would mark a dramatic shift in the US engagement in Iraq, after the last American troops pulled out in late 2011.

State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the US was committed to “working with the Iraqi government and leaders across Iraq to support a unified approach against ISIL’s continued aggression.”

But there is no current plan to send US troops back into Iraq, where around 4,500 American soldiers died in the bitter conflict.

White House spokesman Jay Carney said Washington “strongly condemns” the ISIL attacks and “will stand with Iraqi leaders”.

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

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)

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."

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