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US to Deploy 1,500 More Troops to Iraq

by VOA News November 07, 2014

The U.S. will deploy an additional 1,500 troops to Iraq to advise and train the Iraqi military to bolster its ability to counter the threat posed by militants associated with the so-called Islamic State, the Pentagon said Friday.

The Defense Department said the forces will be in non-combat roles, establishing training sites and to set up "advise and assist operations centers" outside Baghdad and Arbil.

According to a statement by Pentagon Press Secretary Rear Admiral John Kirby, Defense Secretary Hagel recommended the increase to President Obama based on a request from the Iraqi, an assessment of Iraqi units, and the progress Iraqi security forces have made in the field.

There are currently about 1,400 U.S. military and diplomatic security personnel in Iraq.

In a meeting with congressional leaders Friday, Obama was expected to seek specific authorization from Congress for airstrikes being conducted by a U.S.-led coalition against Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria.

The air campaign against the insurgents began in September. Initially, Obama used congressional permission granted by the 2001 Authorized Use of Military Force.

There are reports President Obama has also reached out to Iran on the fight against the Islamic State, tying possible coordination to progress on Iran's disputed nuclear program.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest would not confirm a Wall Street Journal report saying Obama sent a letter to Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Earnest said Thursday he is 'not in a position to discuss private correspondence between the president and any world leader.'

The reported letter, which other news outlets say they have confirmed exists, is likely to raise concerns about turning the fight against the Islamic State into a sectarian battle by pitting Iran's Shi'ite government against the Sunni militant group. The U.S. has so far been focused on empowering Iraq's Sunni tribes and enlisting a regional coalition of Sunni states to battle the Islamic State.

Two of President Obama's harshest critics in Congress, Republican Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham, say enlisting Iran in the fight against Islamic State militants could also lend support to Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad, whom the U.S. opposes. Iran has backed Assad throughout the Syrian conflict, while the U.S. has supported moderate Syrian rebels.

In a joint statement, McCain and Graham called the apparent outreach to Iran 'outrageous,' saying the consequences 'would destroy the Syrians' last best chance to live in freedom from the brutal Assad regime.'

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