Iraq requests US air strikes on jihadists – Iraqi FM

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Iraq has asked the United States to conduct air strikes against jihadist-led Sunni militants that have seized key cities and large swathes of the country, Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari said Wednesday. “Iraq has officially asked Washington to help under the security agreement (between the two countries), and to conduct air strikes against terrorist groups,” Zebari told reporters in Saudi Arabia.

Militants, spearheaded by the jihadist Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and joined by supporters of executed dictator Saddam Hussein, have in the past week overrun a large chunk of northern and north-central Iraq, although their advance has since been slowed.

“A military approach will not be enough. We acknowledge the need for drastic political solutions,” Zebari said, AFP reports.

The United States spent millions of dollars over several years training and arming a new Iraqi army after disbanding the Sunni-led force created by the late dictator Saddam Hussein.

Sunni militants attack Iraq’s Baiji refinery

Sunni militants attacked Iraq’s largest oil refinery, located in Baiji in northern Iraq, with machine-gun fire and mortars on Wednesday, Iraqi security sources and refinery employees said. The attack started at 4 am (01:00 GMT) from outside two of the three main entrances to the sprawling facility, the sources said.

One mortar hit a spare-parts warehouse and smoke billowed from the building, the sources said. On Tuesday, foreigners were evacuated from the refinery as security forces braced for an attack on the compound.

The refinery has been under siege since Sunni militants began a major military offense in northern Iraq last week.

Iraqi PM fires several top security commanders as fighting approaches Baghdad

Iraq’s premier fired several top security commanders in a major shake-up Tuesday as fighting approached Baghdad in a militant onslaught that the UN warned risked breaking up the country. Washington deployed some 275 military personnel to protect its embassy in Baghdad, the first time it has publicly bolstered the mission’s security.

And it was also mulling air strikes against the militants, who are led by the jihadist Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) but include loyalists of now-executed Sunni Arab dictator Saddam Hussein.

A relative calm in Baghdad was shattered by a string of bombings that left 17 people dead, while the bodies of 18 soldiers and police were found near the city of Samarra, shot in the head and chest.

More than a week after insurgents launched their lightning assault, Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki dismissed several senior officers, including the commander for the northern province of Nineveh, the first to fall.

Maliki also ordered that one of them face court-martial for desertion.

The dismissals came after soldiers and police fled en masse as insurgents swept into Nineveh’s capital Mosul, a city of two million, abandoning their vehicles and uniforms.

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