Monday 22 December 2014

Iraq begs Barack Obama to launch airstrikes in crisis

Appeal follows another day of fierce clashes

Colin Freeman

Published 19/06/2014 | 02:30

A Mehdi army fighter demonstrates during military style training in Baghdad. Reuters
A Mehdi army fighter demonstrates during military style training in Baghdad. Reuters

IRAQ has issued a public appeal for America to bomb the Isis "terrorists" rampaging through the country's northern region, a move that will pile pressure on Washington to take military action.

Speaking after another day of fierce clashes across the country, Hoshyar Zebari, the foreign minister, confirmed that Baghdad was formally seeking to rope in US air power in its fight against insurgents from the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham.

The plea came hours after the chief military spokesman, Lt. Gen. Qassim al-Moussawi, said government forces had repelled an attack by militants on the country's largest oil refinery at Beiji, some 155 miles north of the capital, Baghdad.

Al-Moussawi said 40 attackers were killed in fighting there overnight on Tuesday and early yesterday. There was no independent confirmation either of his claims or those of the Iraqi military's retaking neighbourhoods in Tal Afar.

The Beiji refinery accounts for a little more than a quarter of the country's entire refining capacity - all of which goes toward domestic consumption for things like gasoline, cooking oil and fuel for power stations. Any lengthy outage at Beiji risks long lines at the gas pump and electricity shortages, adding to the chaos already facing Iraq.

Baghdad's plea for direct intervention came as Washington appears to have cooled on the idea of using air power. Officials have said that while the Pentagon is willing to send special forces to help with intelligence gathering, air strikes would be of limited use against an enemy that is widely spread out and operating among civilian populations.

America's most respected military strategist also questioned the use of air power, saying it could lead the US to be seen to be siding with Iraq's Shia-dominated government.David Petraeus, the former general who led the American "troop surge" that quelled Iraq's 2006-7 sectarian war, said there would be a risk that the US would be seen as "an air force for Shia militias". Speaking at the Margaret Thatcher Conference on Liberty, organised by The Daily Telegraph in London, Mr Petraeus said more needed to be done to address the root problems of the fighting. The main issue was that Iraq's Sunni minority now felt so disenfranchised that they preferred the rule of Isis. "You cannot have 18 to 20 per cent of the population feeling... that it has not got a stake in the country, and in fact feeling that it has a stake in the failure of the new Iraq," he said.

In what appeared to a swipe at Iraq's Shia prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, Mr Petraeus added that "sectarian actions" had undermined the work of reuniting the country.

Mr Maliki sought to regain the political initiative yesterday, saying in a televised address that his security forces were now teaching Isis a "lesson" and striking back.

But he also announced that four generals would face court martial for failing to defend the city of Mosul last week, a move that shows the lack of loyalty he feels even among his senior command. Meanwhile, heavy fighting erupted around the country's main oil refinery in the city of Baiji, 250 miles north of Baghdad, where Islamists first tried to gain control last week. The Iraqi army later said it had repelled the attack, killing 40 Isis fighters in the process, but the claims could not be verified.

Fighting at the plant could add to the mounting chaos, as it is one of Iraq's main providers of gasoline, cooking oil and fuel for power stations. Hassan Rouhani, Iran's president, made clear his country's intention to prevent Isis pushing towards Shia holy cities. (© Daily Telegraph, London) See Analysis: Page 33

Irish Independent

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