As militants advance towards Iraq’s capital, US President Barack Obama on Thursday threatened to use military strikes to assist the Nouri al-Maliki government fight a growing radical Islamist insurgency.
Obama’s decision comes after militants seized two strategic areas of Diyala province northeast of Baghdad on Thursday. Jalawla and Saadiyah are the other areas which have fallen into the hands of the Sunni militants.
When asked whether Washington would consider drone strikes to combat violence that threatens to break up Iraq, Obama said: “Iraq is going to need more help. It’s going to need more help from us, and it’s going to need more help from the international community”.
Meanwhile, Kurdish security forces yesterday seized the country’s northern city of Kirkuk after the Iraqi Army withdrew from its military base.
The Kurdish security forces’ takeover of Kirkuk, around 264 km from the Iraqi capital of Baghdad, raises concerns that the central government’s forces are losing their battle against militants in the region.
Kurds have long dreamt of taking Kirkuk and its huge oil reserves. They regard the city, just outside their autonomous region, as their historic capital, and peshmerga units were already present in an uneasy balance with government forces.
The insurgents, from an al Qaeda splinter group, the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) which operates in Iraq and neighboring Syria, overran the city of Tikrit on Wednesday.
They also closed in on the biggest oil refinery in the country at Baiji, making further gains in a rapid military advance against the Shi’ite-led government in Baghdad.
Since Tuesday, black-clad ISIL fighters have seized Mosul and Tikrit, Saddam’s hometown, and other towns and cities north of Baghdad. The Army has evaporated before the onslaught, abandoning bases and US-provided weapons. Online videos showed purportedly a column of hundreds, possibly thousands, of troops without uniforms being marched under guard near Tikrit.
Security and police sources said Sunni militants now controlled parts of the town of Udhaim, 90 km (60 miles) north of Baghdad, after most of the Army troops left their positions.
The troops withdrew a day after hundreds of militants on Tuesday stormed the predominantly Arab towns of Hawijah, Zab, Riyadh, Abbasi and Rashad in south and west of the city of Kikruk, the police said.