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U.S. mulls training Iraqi forces to quell Qaeda

The U.S. response to surging violence in Iraq has been limited by a reluctance to involve U.S. troops in another Middle Eastern conflict

Published: Updated:

As the Iraqi government holds off on waging an all-out offensive on al-Qaeda-linked groups in the Sunni province of Anbar, the Obama administration is considering providing fresh training to elite Iraqi forces in Jordan.

The United States is currently trying to find ways to help Iraq repel an al-Qaeda campaign near its western border as fears have arisen that a full-fledged military intervention in Anbar could incite Sunni anger and push moderate tribal leaders to side with the extremists.

It is said that Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), an al-Qaeda affiliate, is seeking to set up a Sunni religious state straddling Iraq and Syria.

Earlier this week, U.S. officials said the United States was in discussions with Iraq about training its elite forces in a third country, which would allow Washington to provide a modest measure of new support against militants in the absence of a troop deal allowing U.S. soldiers to operate within Iraq.

“There is discussion about this, and Jordan is included in the discussions,” a U.S. defense official told Reuters.

The official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that a privately run special operations training center near Amman was one of the sites being considered.

It is not clear who exactly would provide the new training to Iraqi forces, but it might include U.S. Special Forces soldiers or contractors.

Jordan, also grappling with the mounting impact of the conflict in neighboring Syria, is one of the United States’ closest allies in the Middle East.

In Syria, especially in the northwestern province of Aleppo, rebels battling government of President Bashar al-Assad also fought against ISIL in the latest rebel-on-rebel fighting.

However, Syrian opposition and rebels including moderate Islamists claim that ISIL is working to further the Assad regime’s agenda.

Meanwhile, Iraq has also urged the Obama administration to approve weapons sales to the country marred by increasing violence. However, Senator Bob Menendez of New Jersey, chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, has blocked the lease and sale of the powerful attack helicopters for months.

But, the New York Times reported a change of heart.

On Thursday the U.S. paper quoted Menendez’s spokesmen, Adam Sharon, saying that “the administration is now addressing concerns first raised in July that required responses before this sale could proceed.”

Two years after the Obama administration pulled all U.S. troops from Iraq, the U.S. response to mounting sectarian tensions and surging violence in Iraq has been limited by reluctance to further empower Maliki, a Shiite increasingly at odds with minority Sunnis, and by a widespread desire to ensure U.S. soldiers aren’t involved in another Middle Eastern war.

On Thursday, House Speaker John Boehner urged Washington to provide more equipment and other aid to the Iraqi government, but he ruled out a reintroduction of U.S. troops for the time being.

The Republican leader said President Obama must get more involved in helping Iraq as it seeks to reclaim two cities, Fallujah and Ramadi, overrun by ISIL fighters.

“I think the president himself ought to take a more active role in dealing with the issues in Iraq,” the Associated Press quoted Boehner as telling reporters at his weekly news conference.

He added: “Secondly, we need to get equipment to the Iraqis and other services that would help them battle this counterterrorism effort that they’re attempting to do. There are things that we can do to help the Iraqis that do not involve putting U.S. troops on the ground.”

Pressed on whether he thought U.S. troops should be sent back to Iraq, Boehner said he didn’t think “that is called for at this point in time.”

Iraqi troops, militants clash

On Friday, fierce clashes erupted between Iraqi Special Forces and ISIL militants in a village in western Anbar province, the Associated Press reported an official as saying.

Provincial spokesman Dhari al-Rishawi said the clashes were taking place in al-Bubali, a village that lies between Fallujah and Ramadi.

A police officer told the Associated Press that several army vehicles were damaged by roadside bombs planted around the village by the militants.

On Thursday, Al Arabiya correspondent reported some progress taking place against ISIL fighters as cautious calm returned to Ramadi and Fallujah after Iraqi tribes recaptured the majority of Anbar.

Despite the returning calm, the correspondent, citing local sources, said clashes also took took place between tribesmen and police against the militants in al-Bubali area in al-Khaldiya district, 20 kilometers east of Ramadi, and in neighboring areas.

(Reuters and Associated Press)