Iraqi militants moved nearer to Baghdad Thursday after capturing a town just hours to the north as President Barack Obama said Washington was exploring all options to save Iraq’s security forces from collapse.
With the militants closing in on the capital, forces from Iraq’s autonomous Kurdish region took control of Kirkuk, an ethnically divided northern city they have sought to rule for decades against the objections of successive governments in Baghdad.
Obama said Iraq was going to need more help from the United States and the international community. “Our national security team is looking at all the options. I don’t rule out anything,” he said. Russia said the lightning gains by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) which has been disavowed even by the Al-Qaeda leadership had shown the pointlessness of the 2003 US-led invasion, carried out in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks in the United States.
Washington is considering several options for offering military assistance to Baghdad, including drone strikes, a US official told AFP on condition of anonymity.
Resorting to such aircraft – used in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Yemen in a highly controversial programme – would mark a dramatic shift in the US engagement in Iraq, after the last American troops pulled out in late 2011.
State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the US was committed to working with the Iraqi government and leaders across Iraq to support a unified approach against ISIL’s continued aggression.But there is no current plan to send US troops back into Iraq, where around 4,500 American soldiers died in the bitter conflict.
UK Foreign Secretary William Hague said there was no question of British troops being sent back.
The militants, late Thursday, captured the Jalawla and Saadiyah areas. ISIL spokesman Abu Mohammed al-Adnani vowed the jihadists would not stop there, but would press on to the capital and the Shiite shrine city of Karbala.
Amid warnings from Washington that the jihadist offensive threatens the stability of the entire Middle East, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani warned that Tehran would combat terrorism in Iraq.
Fighters from the Sunni Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) have spearheaded a major offensive that began late Monday, overrunning the northern province of Nineveh and significant parts of Kirkuk and Salaheddin provinces.
The Iraqi Parliament failed to achieve a quorum for an emergency session that was supposed to consider a request from Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki and the president’s office to declare a state of emergency.
Only 128 of 325 MPs showed up for the session, which was announced two days before, a senior official said.
In another development, the UN Security Council on Thursday held talks on the crisis in Iraq. The consultations behind closed doors began shortly after 11:30am and were due to include a briefing by video link from the UN special representative to Iraq, Nickolay Mladenov.
Shortly before the meeting began, witnesses reported that Iraqi forces launched air strikes on the militants occupying the palace compound of deposed leader Saddam Hussein in Tikrit.