UK & World News

  • 7 January 2014, 11:04

Iraq Gets US Military Boost Amid Rising Unrest

The US will send military equipment to Iraq sooner than planned to help the government battle insurgents and denied the escalating violence was due to its troops leaving.

There has been a resurgence of fighting in the province of Anbar, which was a key Sunni militant stronghold for years following the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003.

In Anbar, al Qaeda-linked militants have seized the city of Fallujah which has been shelled by security forces as the government prepares to try and take back control.

Parts of Ramadi have also fallen to the insurgents and the latest uprising is being seen as the most direct challenge to Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki's Shia-led government since American forces left the country two years ago.

Washington will speed up its delivery of 100 Hellfire missiles, which were due to be sent to Iraq in the next few months.

Some 75 others had already been taken to Baghdad last month.

The missiles, originally designed as an anti-tank weapon, can be fired from helicopters and warplanes.

An extra 10 ScanEagle surveillance drones, which are three metres long and can fly for 24 hours, will also be delivered.

But the US has ruled out sending troops to help with military operations there and rejected criticism of its withdrawal.

White House spokesman Jay Carney said such violence in Iraq took place even when there were 150,000 American troops in the country.

He said: "If members (of Congress) were suggesting that there should be American troops fighting and dying in Fallujah today, they should say so. The president doesn't believe that."

The US said Washington will provide intelligence at a "ministerial level" through 100 military personnel based at its embassy in Baghdad.

Meanwhile, US Vice President Joe Biden spoke on the phone to Mr al Maliki, and "expressed concern for those Iraqis who are suffering at the hands of terrorists", a statement said.

"Maliki affirmed the importance of working closely with Iraq's Sunni leaders and communities to isolate extremists."

The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) has been tightening its grip in the Sunni-dominated Anbar province, near the Syrian border, as it tries to create an Islamic state across the Iraqi-Syrian borders.

In Ramadi, tribesmen and the army have worked together to try to counter al Qaeda militants seeking to take control.

But in Fallujah, just 40 miles from the capital, ISIL received a boost after being joined by tribesmen against the government.

Mr al Maliki has urged Fallujah residents to expel militants to avoid an all-out battle in the besieged city.

Shia-dominated Iran has also said it is ready to help Iraq battle al Qaeda "terrorists" by sending military equipment and advisers if Baghdad requests assistance.

The fighting began in Ramadi over a week ago, when security forces broke up an anti-government camp demonstrating against the apparent marginalisation of Sunnis by the Shia-led government.

The violence then spread to Fallujah, and when security forces left both cities after fighting the militants, it cleared the way for ISIL to move in.

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