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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

Obama, Iraqi PM Discuss Foreign Fighters, Aid

by VOA News April 14, 2015

President Barack Obama discussed the threat of foreign fighters in Iraq and U.S. aid to Baghdad during a visit to the White House by the country's prime minister, Haidar al-Abadi.

Speaking Tuesday in the Oval Office following his meeting with Abadi, Obama issued a warning to Iran, saying foreign fighters in Iraq must respect the country's sovereignty when assisting in the fight against Islamic State militants.

The president also announced $200 million in additional U.S. humanitarian aid to Iraq but declined to say whether Washington would provide Apache helicopters and other arms to Baghdad.

On his first visit to Washington as prime minister, Abadi was expected to make his case to Obama for a 'marked increase' in U.S. military aid to fight Islamic State militants.

The United States says its airstrikes in Iraq - nearly 1,900 over the last several months - have helped Baghdad's ground forces recapture a quarter of the land seized by the insurgents; but, the Islamic State group still controls Iraq's second city of Mosul and other key areas.

The U.S. and Iraqi leaders were expected to discuss the status of the ongoing fight against the Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria. With U.S. voters weary of years of American wars in the region, Obama has ruled out use of ground troops, but authorized the airstrikes as a way to thwart the militants in their effort to establish a borderless religious caliphate.

Ahead of his White House visit, Abadi said Iraq has received a boost in support from the U.S., 'but we want to see more.'

​​White House spokesman Josh Earnest on Monday said Abadi's request will be considered.

'It's obviously intensive coordination between our militaries,' Earnest said. 'The U.S. military has a presence inside of Iraq where we can coordinate our efforts to make sure that we are leveraging all of the technological capabilities that our military has to benefit the Iraqi forces that are fighting on the ground.'

As he left Baghdad, Abadi said terrorism threatens his country and beyond.

''We, in Iraq, are fighting terrorists on the ground. Terrorism is not only threatening Iraq, it threatens the region and the world alike,' Abadi said. 'We are in need of international support for curbing terrorism. The militants are now smuggling oil and antiquities in order to get money. Thus we are in need of an international effort to halt all criminal attempts by terrorists who aim to continue the bloodletting in Iraq.''

U.S. officials said Monday they were not aware of any specific military aid requests from Iraq in advance of Abadi's visit.

The U.S. has sent 3,000 troops to Iraq to advise and assist Iraqi troops.

The Iraqi forces have succeeded in recent weeks in retaking substantial territory from the Islamic States fighters, including Tikrit, after a month-long battle, but the insurgents still hold large parts of two provinces, Ninevah and Anbar.

IS losing ground

U.S. military officials say Islamic State militants have lost more than one-quarter of the territory they had gained in their campaign to create an Islamic caliphate. A U.S. defense official Monday said this is the result of a combined effort of coalition air strikes and a ground operation by Iraqi armed forces.

​​A new map released by the Pentagon shows that Iraqi forces regained key territories in the north, near Tikrit, Sinjar Mountain and the Mosul Dam.

Pentagon spokesman Steve Warren told Alhurra television Monday that Islamic State lost control of nearly 15,000 square kilometers of the territory it had captured since last August.

'In Tikrit, as you know, we are concluding a very successful operation to liberate that city from the clutches of Daesh (Islamic State), and that operation has been largely successful. There are small parts of Tikrit which remain somewhat contested, primarily because Daesh left so many booby traps, so many IEDs and perhaps a few fighters, snipers and such that remain really only in the northern portion of Tikrit,' Warren said, adding that efforts to push back Islamic State in Syria have been less successful.

'In Syria, ISIL has had some small gains in the city of Damascus and a little bit in the south, also a little bit in Aleppo, but ISIL has also lost some ground in Syria as well, particularly around Kobani. The difference is that in Iraq, the coalition air power is being supported by the brave soldiers of the Iraqi security forces,' he said..

Coalition strategy

The Pentagon official said the coalition strategy is to prevent the militants from creating a safe haven in Syria while pushing them out of Iraq.

Some analysts say the real test in this battle against Islamic State will be in predominantly Sunni areas of Mosul and Anbar province.

'Who knows when that will actually happen because if Iraq wants to do this right, it can't do it with Shia militias. It can't go into neighborhoods that are predominantly Sunni and run roughshod over these communities,' said Brain Katulis of the Center for American Progress.

United Nations chief Ban Ki-moon welcomed the liberation of Tikrit, but expressed alarm at the reports of human rights violations and destruction of property perpetrated by militias fighting alongside Iraqi forces.

One way to prevent ethnic violence in areas freed from Islamic State is to form local army units to defend their own ethnic or religious communities.

"Iraq doesn't really have that now. And the current approach seems to be to try and create this ecumenical, multi-ethnic army that is a truly national force and will deploy from anywhere to anywhere within Iraq,' said the Brookings Institution's Michael O'Hanlon.

The militants still control large swaths of northern Iraq, including many oil refineries that help finance their campaign.

Zlatica Hoke contributed to this report from Washington, some material for this report came from Reuters.

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