News Middle East

Tuesday 16 September 2014

US is prepared to launch strikes on Iraq – Obama

Con Coughlin and Tom Whitehead

Published 20/06/2014 | 02:30

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US President Barack Obama speaks at the White House about the Iraq situation in Washington. Photo: REUTERS
US President Barack Obama speaks at the White House about the Iraq situation in Washington. Photo: REUTERS
Volunteers, who have joined the Iraqi security forces.   REUTERS
Volunteers, who have joined the Iraqi security forces. REUTERS
Iraqi Shiite women voice support for the Iraqi Army in Basra yesterday. Photo: Stringer/Iraq

AMERICA should launch "targeted" military attacks against an emerging "terrorist army" in Iraq if it jeopardises the security of the West, the former head of Coalition forces in the country said last night.

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David Petraeus, one of the most senior figures in the American military over the past decade, said that he would now support limited strikes against the leadership of Isis.

Mr Petraeus's intervention came as President Obama, announced that America was sending 300 special forces advisers to Iraq to help support the country's beleaguered administration. Mr Obama also said that the US was prepared to launch military strikes if future intelligence recommended such action.

However, Britain has ruled out any involvement in military intervention in Iraq – which has seen large swathes of the country overrun by the al-Qa'ida-inspired Isis group in recent days.

Yesterday, the group overran Saddam Hussein's chemical weapons complex at al-Muthanna in central Iraq sparking heightened international concern.

America has been known to use drones, special forces and precision bombs to take out known terrorists. It is understood that General Petraeus's proposal would involve specifically targeting Isis leader Abu Bakr el Baghdadi, a former detainee of the US in Iraq with a $10m (€7.3m) bounty on his head.

Mr Petraeus said: "We must be careful not to take sides if we offer military support. But the growing threat posed by Isis means that military action will be necessary.

"We must realise that Isis poses a threat not only to Iraq but to the UK and other countries as well.

He added that an "Isis sanctuary" in Iraq and Syria would be a potentially serious development for the West.

Speaking during a visit to London, the retired general said: "It seems to be much more than a terrorist group: it seems to be turning into a terrorist army, one that has acquired vast financial resources from looting banks and other criminal enterprises."

He joined calls for the Iraqi government to "reach out to the Sunnis and the Kurds" to help resolve the divisions which are tearing the country apart.

Speaking in the White House last night, President Obama said he was sending up to 300 military advisers to help train and advise Iraqi forces while intelligence services will be "significantly" increased to build up a better picture of what is happening on the ground.

Joint operation centres with Iraqi forces will also be set up.

But the US President warned: "We will be prepared to take targeted and precise military action if and when we determine that the situation on the ground requires it."

Meanwhile Iraqi soldiers and helicopter gunships appeared to be holding on after three days of battle against Sunni militants yesterday for control of Iraq's largest oil refinery. Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's fate seemed increasingly in play with political leaders meeting in recent days behind closed doors and discussing his future, according to a Shiite lawmaker.

The loss of the Beiji oil refinery, some 250km north of Baghdad, would be a devastating symbol of the Baghdad government's powerlessness in the face of a determined insurgency hostile to the West.

By last night, the two sides held different parts of the refinery, which extends over several square kilometres of desert.

The tenacious fight for the refinery reflected the government's desperation to hold on to a shrinking share of the country and stop the momentum of the Sunni extremists, led by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, allied with Sunni tribes and elements of Saddam Hussein's old Baath Party.

It also represented al-Maliki's need for a military victory as leaders in both Baghdad and Washington questioned whether he should remain in office.

Shiite politicians familiar with the secretive efforts to remove al-Maliki said two names mentioned as possible replacements are former vice president Adel Abdul-Mahdi, a French-educated economist who is also a Shiite, and Ayad Allawi, a secular Shiite who served as Iraq's first prime minister after Saddam's ouster.

Al-Mahdi belongs to a moderate Shiite party, the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council, which has close links with Iran.

Also lobbying for the job is Ahmad Chalabi, a Shiite lawmaker who recently joined the Supreme Council and was once a favourite by Washington to lead Iraq a decade ago. Another Shiite from the Supreme Council who is trying to land the job is Bayan Jabr, a former finance and interior minister under al-Maliki's tenure, according to the politicians.

An Iraqi Shiite lawmaker, Hakim al-Zamili, said he was aware of a meeting in recent days between Iraqi political leaders and US officials over the issue of al-Maliki's future. He said he did not know who attended the meeting.

Al-Zamili belongs to a political bloc loyal to anti-US cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, who has publicly demanded that al-Maliki, in office since 2006, be replaced. (© Daily Telegraph)

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