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PM Maliki’s secret appeal for U.S. airstrikes denied

ISIL-insurgents
ISIL insurgents in Iraq.

(IraqiNews.com) As ISIL attacks increased last month, Prime Minister Maliki secretly appealed to the administration of U.S. President Obama for airstrike support against ISIL staging areas, according to Iraqi and U.S. officials. These appeals were rejected as the Obama administration has preferred to limit its overt use of force in Iraq.

Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari proposed in 2013 to have American-manned Predator or Reaper drones strike against insurgents. American officials dismissed that proposal at the time, saying that the request had not been issued by Prime Minister Maliki.

By March, however, American officials who visited Iraq were being told that Iraq’s top leaders were hoping that American air power could be used to target ISIL staging and training facilities, and help Iraq’s armed forces stop them from entering into Iraq from Syria.

“Iraqi officials at the highest level said they had requested manned and unmanned U.S. airstrikes this year against ISIL camps in the Jazira desert,” said Kenneth M. Pollack, a former C.I.A. analyst and National Security Council official, who is a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and who visited Baghdad in early March. ISIL is the acronym for the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, as the militant group is known.

As ISIL has grown in strength those air support requests have continued. In a May 11 meeting with American diplomats and Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III, the head of U.S. Central Command, Prime Minister Maliki said he would like the United States to provide Iraq with the ability to operate drones. But if the United States was unwilling to do that, Mr. Maliki indicated he was prepared to allow the United States to carry out strikes using warplanes or drones.

In a May 16 phone call with Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., Mr. Maliki again suggested that the United States consider using American air power. A written request repeating that point was submitted soon afterward, officials said.

Some experts say that such American military action could be helpful but only if Mr. Maliki takes steps to make his government more inclusive.

“U.S. military support for Iraq could have a positive effect but only if it is conditioned on Maliki changing his behavior within Iraq’s political system,” Mr. Pollack said. “He has to bring the Sunni community back in, agree to limits on his executive authority and agree to reform Iraqi security forces to make them more professional and competent.”

To date, the U.S. administration has indicated that it does not wish to entertain a direct American military role.

In a speech on Wednesday, Susan E. Rice, U.S. President Obama’s national security adviser, said that the American effort to support Iraq’s forces had been effective. “The United States has been fast to provide necessary support for the people and government of Iraq,” she said.

The United States has provided a $14 billion foreign military aid package to Iraq that includes F-16 fighter jets, Apache attack helicopters and M-16 rifles. It has delivered hundreds of Hellfire missiles as well as ScanEagle reconnaissance drones.



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