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US speeds up drone, missile deliveries to aid Iraq

08 January, 2014

WASHINGTON: The United States said Monday it would speed up its deliveries of missiles and surveillance drones to Iraq as the Baghdad government battles a resurgence of al Qaeda linked militants.

The White House, meanwhile, dismissed claims that the fighting, which has seen militants retake the city of Fallujah, was a result of President Barack Obama's decision to withdraw US troops.

Vice President Joe Biden spoke by phone with Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, and "expressed concern for those Iraqis who are suffering at the hands of terrorists," a White House statement said.

"Maliki affirmed the importance of working closely with Iraq's Sunni leaders and communities to isolate extremists," it added. The Pentagon said that Washington would accelerate delivery of 100 more Hellfire missiles, which were due to be sent to Iraq in the next few months.

Colonel Steven Warren said an additional 10 ScanEagle surveillance drones would also be delivered.

Hellfire missiles, originally designed as an anti-tank weapon, can be fired from helicopters and warplanes.

ScanEagle drones are a low-cost three-meter aircraft capable of flying 24 hours. The deliveries correspond to contracts already signed with Iraq. Some 75 Hellfire missiles were delivered to Baghdad in mid-December, US officials said.

Since then Iraq has seen a resurgence of fighting in the province of Anbar, which was a key insurgent stronghold for years following the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003.

Last week, fighters from the Al Qaeda-linked Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) reclaimed Fallujah, scene of some of the bloodiest fighting of the Iraq war between US troops and insurgents.

Warren said Washington was working with Iraq to develop a "holistic strategy to isolate Al Qaeda-affiliated groups so the tribes working with the security forces can drive them out of the populated areas."

But he reiterated previous statements from US Secretary of State John Kerry that no US forces would return to Iraq to assist in military operations.

"We'll not be sending forces to Iraq," he said.

Instead the United States will continue to provide intelligence to assist and advise the Iraqis at a "ministerial level" through around 100 military personnel still based at the US Embassy in Baghdad.

The assistance would not extend to operational advice. "We're not doing tactical work with the Iraqis," Warren said.

Despite the withdrawal of US forces from Iraq at the end of 2011, the United States remains a key security and defense partner, providing more than $14 billion worth of weapons to Baghdad since 2005.

Following the renewed fighting, the White House has been forced to rebut claims that the militants are filling a vacuum left by the departure of US forces.

"There was sectarian conflict, violent sectarian conflict in Iraq when there were 150,000 US troops on the ground there," said White House spokesman Jay Carney."

End.

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