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Thursday 18 September 2014

US provides weapons to Kurdish forces fighting Islamic militants in Iraq

Published 11/08/2014 | 11:24

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Displaced people from the minority Yazidi sect, fleeing the violence in the Iraqi town of Sinjar, re-enter Iraq from Syria at the Iraqi-Syrian border crossing in Fishkhabour, Dohuk Province, August 10, 2014. Displaced families from Iraq's minority Yazidi sect crossed the border into Syria on Sunday to escape violence in the town of Sinjar, according to Firat news agency. Islamic State militants have killed hundreds of Iraq's minority Yazidis, burying some alive and taking women as slaves, an Iraqi government minister said on Sunday, as U.S. warplanes again bombed the insurgents and a political deadlock dragged on. Picture taken August 10, 2014. REUTERS/Ari Jalal (IRAQ - Tags: CIVIL UNREST POLITICS CONFLICT SOCIETY)
Displaced people from the minority Yazidi sect, fleeing the violence in the Iraqi town of Sinjar, re-enter Iraq from Syria at the Iraqi-Syrian border crossing in Fishkhabour, Dohuk Province, August 10, 2014. REUTERS/Ari Jalal
Displaced people from the minority Yazidi sect, fleeing the violence in the Iraqi town of Sinjar, re-enter Iraq from Syria at the Iraqi-Syrian border crossing in Fishkhabour, Dohuk Province, August 10, 2014. Displaced families from Iraq's minority Yazidi sect crossed the border into Syria on Sunday to escape violence in the town of Sinjar, according to Firat news agency. Islamic State militants have killed hundreds of Iraq's minority Yazidis, burying some alive and taking women as slaves, an Iraqi government minister said on Sunday, as U.S. warplanes again bombed the insurgents and a political deadlock dragged on. Picture taken August 10, 2014. REUTERS/Ari Jalal (IRAQ- Tags: CIVIL UNREST POLITICS CONFLICT SOCIETY)
Displaced people from the minority Yazidi sect, fleeing the violence in the Iraqi town of Sinjar, re-enter Iraq from Syria at the Iraqi-Syrian border crossing in Fishkhabour, Dohuk Province, August 10, 2014. REUTERS/Ari Jalal
Tech. Sgt. Lynn Morelly, 816th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron, C-17 Globemaster III loadmaster, watches bundles of halal meals parachute to the ground during a humanitarian airdrop mission over Iraq in this August 9, 2014 photo released on August 10, 2014. To date, in coordination with the government of Iraq, U.S. military aircraft have delivered more than 52,000 meals and more than 10,600 gallons of fresh drinking water, providing much-needed aid to the displaced Yazidis, who urgently require emergency assistance according to the U.S. Department of Defense. Picture taken on August 9, 2014.  REUTERS/Vernon Young Jr./U.S. Air Force/Handout  (IRAQ - Tags: MILITARY CONFLICT) FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS. THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. IT IS DISTRIBUTED, EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY REUTERS, AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS
Tech. Sgt. Lynn Morelly, 816th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron, C-17 Globemaster III loadmaster, watches bundles of halal meals parachute to the ground during a humanitarian airdrop mission over Iraq in this August 9, 2014 photo released on August 10, 2014. REUTERS/Vernon Young Jr./U.S. Air Force/Handout

The Obama administration has begun directly providing weapons to Kurdish forces who have started to make gains against Islamic militants in Iraq.

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The US previously insisted on selling arms only to the Iraqi government.

American officials say the administration is close to approving plans for the Pentagon to arm the Kurds.

Recently the US military has been helping facilitate weapons deliveries from the Iraqis to the Kurds, who had been losing ground to the Islamic State militant group, formerly known as Isis.

The move to directly aid the Kurds underscores the level of US concern about the Islamic State militants' gains in the north, and reflects the persistent administration view that the Iraqis must take the necessary steps to solve their own security problems.

A senior State Department official would only say that the Kurds are "getting arms from various sources. They are being rearmed".

To bolster that effort, the administration is also very close to approving plans for the Pentagon to arm the Kurds, a senior official said. In recent days, the US military has been helping facilitate weapons deliveries from the Iraqis to the Kurds, providing logistic assistance and transportation to the north.

The additional assistance comes as Kurdish forces on Sunday took back two towns from the Islamic insurgents, aided in part by US airstrikes in the region. President Barack Obama authorised the airstrikes to protect US interests and personnel in the region, including at facilities in Irbil, as well as Yazidi refugees fleeing militants.

US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said the airstrikes "have been very effective from all the reports that we've received on the ground".

He declined to detail how or when the US might expand its assistance to Iraq, or if military assessment teams currently in Baghdad would be moving to a more active role advising the Iraqi forces.

"We're going to continue to support the Iraqi security forces in every way that we can as they request assistance there," Mr Hagel said during a press conference with Australian Defence Minister David Johnston.

At the same time, the administration is watching carefully as a political crisis brews in Baghdad, and US Secretary of State John Kerry warned Iraq's embattled prime minister Nouri al-Maliki to maintain calm among the upheaval.

Displaced people, who fled from the violence in the province of Nineveh, arrive at Sulaimaniya province August 7, 2014. The United States began to drop relief supplies to beleaguered Yazidi refugees fleeing Islamist militants in Iraq, but there was no immediate sign on Friday of U.S. air strikes to halt the sweeping advance of Islamic State fighters. Picture taken August 7, 2014.  REUTERS/Stringer (IRAQ - Tags: CIVIL UNREST POLITICS CONFLICT MILITARY)
Displaced people, who fled from the violence in the province of Nineveh, arrive at Sulaimaniya province August 7, 2014. REUTERS/Stringer
Displaced people, who fled from the violence in the province of Nineveh, arrive at Sulaimaniya province August 7, 2014. The United States began to drop relief supplies to beleaguered Yazidi refugees fleeing Islamist militants in Iraq, but there was no immediate sign on Friday of U.S. air strikes to halt the sweeping advance of Islamic State fighters. Picture taken August 7, 2014.  REUTERS/Stringer (IRAQ - Tags: CIVIL UNREST POLITICS CONFLICT MILITARY)
Displaced people, who fled from the violence in the province of Nineveh, arrive at Sulaimaniya province August 7, 2014. REUTERS/Stringer
A member of the Kurdish peshmerga forces sit with a weapon during an intensive security deployment against Islamic State militants in Makhmur, on the outskirts of the province of Nineveh August 7, 2014. The United States began to drop relief supplies to beleaguered Yazidi refugees fleeing Islamist militants in Iraq, but there was no immediate sign on Friday of U.S. air strikes to halt the sweeping advance of Islamic State fighters. Picture taken August 7, 2014.  REUTERS/Stringer (IRAQ - Tags: CIVIL UNREST POLITICS CONFLICT MILITARY)
A member of the Kurdish peshmerga forces sit with a weapon during an intensive security deployment against Islamic State militants in Makhmur, on the outskirts of the province of Nineveh August 7, 2014. REUTERS/Stringer

"We believe that the government formation process is critical in terms of sustaining the stability and calm in Iraq," Mr Kerry said. "And our hope is that Mr Maliki will not stir those waters."

Speaking in Australia, Mr Kerry said there should be no use of force by political factions as Iraq struggles form a government. He said the people of Iraq have made clear their desire for change and that the country's new president is acting appropriately despite claims of malfeasance by Mr Maliki.

Mr Maliki is resisting calls to step down and says he'll file a complaint against the president for not naming him prime minister.

Mr Kerry noted that Mr Maliki's Shia bloc has put forward three other candidates for the prime minister job and says the US stands with the new president, Fouad Massoum.

Mr Maliki has accused Mr Massoum of violating the constitution because he has not yet named a prime minister from the country's largest parliamentary faction, missing a Sunday deadline.

Mr Hagel and Mr Kerry are in Sydney for an annual meeting with Australian defence and diplomatic leaders.

Press Association

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