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IRAQ WARS
US lawmakers warn of 'next 9/11' threat in Iraq
by Staff Writers
Washington (AFP) June 15, 2014


US to evacuate Baghdad embassy staff
Washington (AFP) June 15, 2014 - The US embassy in Baghdad is evacuating personnel and increasing military security after militants captured vast swathes of territory and advanced toward the capital, officials said Sunday.

It was unclear how many staff members would be evacuated from the mission. Located within the heavily fortified Green Zone that houses much of the international presence in the city, the US embassy is the largest in the world.

State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the staff would only be "temporarily relocated" to US consulates in Basra in the south and Arbil in the northern Kurdish territories. Neither area is currently threatened by the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant militants.

Other staff will be flown to the US embassy in the Jordanian capital of Amman, where they will work on Iraq-related issues.

Rear Admiral John Kirby, the Department of Defense spokesman, said a "small number of DOD personnel are augmenting State Department security assets in Baghdad to help ensure the safety of our facilities."

Kirby indicated that the embassy staff were being relocated using commerical, charter and State Department aircraft, and that the US military also had air assets available as needed.

"The Embassy of the United States in Baghdad remains open and will continue to engage daily with Iraqis and their elected leaders -- supporting them as they strengthen Iraq's constitutional processes and defend themselves from imminent threats," Psaki said in a statement.

She stressed that Washington "strongly supports Iraq and its people" as they face the militants' onslaught.

American contractors working for the Iraqi government to train local security forces on US military equipment are already being evacuated out of the country.

Additional US government security personnel will join the staff at the embassy in Baghdad "as a result of ongoing instability and violence in certain areas of Iraq," Psaki said.

She urged Americans in the country to "exercise caution and limit travel" to the provinces of Anbar, Diyala, Kirkuk, Nineveh and Salah ad Din, as well as make emergency contingency plans, maintain security awareness at all times and register their travel with the State Department.

Washington has responded to the sweeping unrest by deploying an aircraft carrier group to the Gulf.

President Barack Obama has said he is weighing "all options," while ruling out any return of US combat troops to Iraq, a country they left nearly three years ago after a bloody and costly occupation launched in 2003.

US President Barack Obama came under fire Sunday from Republican lawmakers and others who warned that a debacle in Iraq will give Islamist extremists a staging area for "the next 9/11."

Senator Lindsey Graham, a proponent of US air strikes, also called for the resignation of Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki and direct US engagement with Iran on the crisis set off this week by a lightning offensive by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) jihadist group.

Fighters from the group routed the much larger Iraqi army, seizing the country's second largest city Mosul and sweeping through the Sunni heartland towards Baghdad.

The United States moved an aircraft carrier and two guided-missile warships into the Gulf on Saturday as Obama weighed his options.

Retired military officers questioned whether air strikes were a viable near-term option with no US forces on the ground to provide precise targeting data.

But they and a former US ambassador to Iraq, Ryan Crocker, stressed the urgent need for high-level US diplomacy to drive Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds toward a political solution.

"I would support very carefully targeted air strikes, but they would have to be in conjunction with a serious, high-level, diplomatic effort that would engage the Shia, the Sunni and the Kurdish leadership," said Crocker.

"We have got to help the Iraqis come together in a unified fashion to confront a common threat."

Crocker, speaking on CNN's "Fareed Zakaria - GPS," warned: "The stakes are very high here.

This is Al-Qaeda 6.0. And if they consolidate their territorial gains, they will be in a stronger position than they ever were in Afghanistan prior to 9/11. And we know how that turned out."

Retired General Peter Chiarelli, a former commander in Iraq, said ISIL fighters "have an opportunity here, they have taken advantage of that opportunity, and I think we should really, really be concerned."

"I read someplace yesterday, where they're the richest terrorist group in the world after what they were able to seize in Mosul, so I'm concerned, and I think all Americans should be concerned," he told ABC's "This Week."

Graham, interviewed on CNN's "State of the Union," said Washington had to act "because Iraq and Syria combined are going to be the staging area for the next 9/11 if we don't do something about it."

"The people holding ground in Iraq also hold ground in Syria. Economic instability that comes from a collapsed Iraq will affect gas prices and our economic recovery," he said.

Another Republican lawmaker, House Homeland Security chairman Michael McCaul, stopped short of calling for US military action but pressed for an intensive diplomatic initiative with US allies in the region.

"They need us to lead them and we're not leading right now as a nation," he said on "This Week."

"This is the worst of the worst," he said of ISIL. "If they get back into the United States or western Europe, I see that as the biggest threat today."

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IRAQ WARS
ISIL Iraq onslaught aids Syria regime, jihadists: analysts
Beirut (AFP) June 14, 2014
Both Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and jihadist groups battling to oust him stand to benefit from a lightning offensive by militants across the border in Iraq, analysts believe. Fighters from the powerful jihadist Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant began an offensive in Iraq on Monday, taking a swathe of mostly Sunni Arab territory in the north. The attack led by ISIL, which operate ... read more


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