US rushing dozens of drones and missiles to Iraq to fight Al Qaeda
A shipment of 75 Hellfire missiles was sent to Iraq last week and 10 ScanEagle reconnaissance drones are scheduled to be delivered by March, the New York Times reported Wednesday.
State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki warned Sunday al-Qaida-backed insurgents are "seeking to gain control of territory inside the borders of Iraq."
The affiliate, she said, is a "common enemy of the United States and the Republic of Iraq, and a threat to the greater Middle East region."
Michael Knights, an expert on Iraqi security at the Washington Institute for Near East policy questioned the lack of armed drones being sent to Iraq.
"The real requirement today is for a long-range, high-endurance armed drone capability," he said. "There is one place in the world where al-Qaida can run a major affiliate without fear of a US drone or air attack, and that is in Iraq and Syria."
Iraq's foreign minister has suggested the idea of having US-operated armed Predator or Reaper drones respond to the al-Qaida threat though Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki hasn't formally requested such intervention, Bernadette Meehan, a spokeswoman for the National Security Council said.
The shipments are being sent as Baghdad confronts the worst wave of Islamic militant violence in half a decade.
Recent attacks, including the bombing Wednesday of a market near a church in Baghdad, have killed at least 44 people across Iraq, in the worst bloodletting since 2008 when the country was just emerging from a brutal period of sectarian killings.
Militants frequently attack places where crowds gather, including markets, cafes and mosques, in an effort to cause maximum casualties.
Experts say widespread discontent among Iraq's minority Sunni Arab community is a major factor fueling the surge in unrest.
More than 6,700 people have been killed in Iraq since the beginning of 2013, according to AFP figures based on security and medical sources.
Voice of Russia, AFP, UPI