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Iraq asked U.S. to bomb militants

  • Article by: Michael R. Gordon and Eric Schmitt
  • New York Times
  • June 11, 2014 - 8:31 PM

– As the threat from Sunni militants in western Iraq escalated in May, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki secretly asked the Obama administration to consider carrying out airstrikes against extremist staging areas, according to Iraqi and U.S. officials.

But Iraq’s appeals for military assistance have so far been rebuffed by the White House, which is reluctant to open a new chapter in a conflict that President Obama has insisted was closed when the United States withdrew the last of its forces from Iraq in 2011.

The swift capture of Mosul by militants aligned with the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant has underscored how the conflicts in Syria and Iraq have converged into one widening regional insurgency, with fighters coursing back and forth through the porous border between the two countries. But it also has cast a spotlight on the limits the White House has imposed on the use of U.S. power in an increasingly violent and volatile region.

A spokeswoman for the National Security Council, Bernadette Meehan, declined to comment on al-Maliki’s requests and the administration’s response, saying in a statement, “We are not going to get into details of our diplomatic discussions, but the government of Iraq has made clear that they welcome our support” in combating the Islamic extremists.

The Obama administration has carried out drone strikes against militants in Yemen and Pakistan, where it fears terrorists have been hatching plans to attack the United States. But despite the fact that Sunni militants have been making steady advances and may be carving out new havens from which they could carry out attacks against the West, administration spokesmen have insisted that the U.S. is not actively considering using warplanes or armed drones to strike them.

Hoshyar Zebari, Iraq’s foreign minister, last year floated the idea that U.S.-operated, armed Predator or Reaper drones might be used to respond to the expanding militant network in Iraq. U.S. officials dismissed that suggestion at the time because the request had not come from al-Maliki.

By March, however, U.S. experts who visited Baghdad were being told that Iraq’s top leaders were hoping that U.S. air power could be used to strike the militants’ staging and training areas inside Iraq.

© 2014 Star Tribune