Obama sending 270 US troops to assist in Iraq
US soldiers to be deployed around embassy in Baghdad as Isis gets closer to capital
A photograph made available yesterday by jihadist-affiliated group Albaraka News shows what are purported to be Isil fighters taking away Iraqi soldiers at an undisclosed location near the border between Syria and Iraq on June 12th. Photograph: EPA/Albaraka ews
The Obama administration has ordered the urgent deployment of several hundred armed troops in and around Iraq, after the rampant insurgency in the country forced the first talks between the US and Iran over a common security interest in more than a decade.
President Barack Obama discussed the crisis with a national security team yesterday after earlier notifying Congress that up to 275 troops could be sent to Iraq to provide support and security for personnel and the US embassy in Baghdad.
While Mr Obama has vowed to keep US troops out of combat in Iraq, he said in his notification to Congress that the personnel moving into the region were equipped for direct fighting.
In addition, officials said that the White House was considering sending a contingent of special forces to train and advise beleaguered Iraqi troops, many of whom have fled their posts in the face of the insurgency. The moves were made in advance of any decision Mr Obama may yet make on attacking the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (Isis) fighters threatening Iraq.
Equipped for combat
Mr Obama said the military personnel being sent to Iraq would provide support and security for the American embassy in Baghdad, but were “equipped for combat”.
“This force will remain in Iraq until the security situation becomes such that it is no longer needed,” he said.
About 170 US personnel have already arrived in Baghdad – almost as many as those already there – with another 100 nearby outside Iraq to assist, rear admiral John Kirby said from the Pentagon yesterday.
Mr Obama had earlier sent a letter to members of Congress informing them of the decision – a signal that the administration does not want to risk another disaster at an under-guarded embassy akin to the 2012 assault on the US consulate in Benghazi, Libya, that remains a major controversy on the right.
US and Iranian officials held talks over the crisis yesterday. The discussions in Vienna took place on the sidelines of separate negotiations about Iran’s nuclear programme, amid conflicting signals in Washington over the extent of any co-ordination with Tehran over the Iraq crisis.
US secretary of state John Kerry pointedly declined to rule out military co-operation in an interview yesterday, but US and Iranian officials later stressed there was no prospect of military co-ordination, and none was discussed in Vienna, where talks were described as short and inconclusive.
Notwithstanding the denials of collaboration, the advent of joint diplomatic efforts between Washington and Tehran over the chaos in Iraq represents a dramatic turnaround for the two rival powers, whose relations, frozen for several decades, have only begun to thaw over the past year.
Meanwhile, military experts say any US air strikes in Iraq would be impeded by a lack of intelligence from the ground. An Iranian offensive, by contrast, would be expected to involve elite forces of ground troops that would engage in direct combat with Isis fighters, gaining a detailed knowledge of the battle lines.
The notion of a partnership between the longtime foes prompted intense resistance in some quarters of Washington and Tehran yesterday.
“It would be the height of folly to believe that the Iranian regime can be our partner in managing the deteriorating security situation in Iraq,” Senator John McCain said.
His remarks contrasted with those of another Republican hawk, Lindsey Graham, who on Sunday expressed support for co-operating with Iran. The two men are usually in step over foreign policy issues and their dispute reveals the divisions uncovered by the prospect of a collaboration with Iran.
Isis fighters have rapidly advanced through mostly Sunni areas of Iraq in recent days, capturing several cities. It was reported yesterday that they had taken Tal Afar, a northern Iraqi city. On Sunday, the insurgent fighters posted images purporting to show the execution of hundreds of Shia fighters.
In Iraq on Monday, the capital, Baghdad, remained outside the grasp of Isis. But the mayor of Tal Afar, a city of 200,000 people located 160km (260 miles) northwest of Baghdad, told the Associated Press that the insurgent group was in control there. A resident said militants in pickup trucks with machine guns and jihadi banners were roaming the streets as gunfire rang out.
Fighting in Tal Afar began on Sunday, with Iraqi government officials saying Isis fighters were firing rockets seized from military arms depots in the Mosul area. They said the local garrison suffered heavy casualties and the main hospital was unable to cope with the wounded.
There were fears that militants would carry out further atrocities in Tal Afar, which is ethnically mixed and made up of Shias and Sunni Turkomen. – (Guardian service)