U.S. orders aircraft carrier on standby for Iraq

The U.S. will deploy one of its naval aircraft carriers to the Gulf to give President Barack Obama military options

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U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel ordered an aircraft carrier moved into the Gulf on Saturday, readying it in case Washington decides to pursue a military option after insurgents overwhelmed a string of Iraqi cities this week and threatened Baghdad, Reuters reported.

“The order will provide the Commander-in-Chief additional flexibility should military options be required to protect American lives, citizens and interests in Iraq,” Reuters quoted the Pentagon as saying in a statement.

The carrier USS George H.W. Bush, moving from the North Arabian Sea, will be accompanied by the guided-missile cruiser USS Philippine Sea and the guided-missile destroyer USS Truxtun, the statement said. It added the ships were expected to complete their transit into the Gulf later on Saturday.

Hagel’s announcement came after one U.S. official said Washington will deploy one of its naval aircraft carriers to the Gulf to give President Barack Obama military options in light of the situation in Iraq, CNN quoted him as saying.


The U.S. official told CNN that Washington plans to move the George H.W. Bush aircraft carrier to provide the American president with options for possible airstrikes.

Obama on Friday set the bar high for U.S. military involvement in Iraq, where a string of areas have fallen to militants belonging to the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria, ruling out the possibility of putting U.S. troops on the ground in Iraq.

But the U.S. leader did say he was considering a range of other options drawn up by the Pentagon.

The Associated Press quoted administration officials as saying the options Obama was considering are strikes using drones or manned aircrafts, as well as boosts in surveillance and intelligence gathering, including satellite coverage and other monitoring efforts.

The Baghdad government is facing a growing insurgency led by ISIS militants who this week seized a number of areas including Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city, and vowed to advance on the capital.

Fighters under the black flag of ISIL are sweeping toward the capital in a campaign to recreate a mediaeval caliphate carved out of fragmenting Iraq and Syria, Reuters news agency said.

The government has bolstered the capital’s defenses.

“We put in place a new plan to protect Baghdad,” Interior Ministry spokesman Brig. Gen. Saad Maan told AFP Friday.

“The plan consists of intensifying the deployment of forces, and increasing intelligence efforts and the use of technology such as [observation] balloons and cameras and other equipment,” Maan said.

U.S. intelligence agencies assess that Baghdad is unlikely to fall, according to officials who were briefed on the matter but could not be quoted by name because the briefings were classified, the Associated Press reported.

The growing insurgency against the Shiite-led government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has raised the specter of a civil war in Iraq.

Iraq's most senior Shiite Muslim cleric urged followers to take up arms against the insurgency.

In a rare intervention at Friday prayers in the holy city of Kerbala, a message from Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, who is the highest religious authority for Shiites in Iraq, said people should unite to fight back against a lightning advance by militants from ISIS.

"People who are capable of carrying arms and fighting the terrorists in defense of their country ... should volunteer to join the security forces to achieve this sacred goal," said Sheikh Abdulmehdi al-Karbalai, delivering Sistani's message.

Those killed fighting ISIL militants would be martyrs, he said as the faithful chanted in acknowledgement.

There are concerns that sectarian and tribal conflict might dismember Iraq into Shi'ite, Sunni and Kurdish entities.

On Friday, Iraq's most senior Shiite Muslim cleric urged followers to take up arms against a full-blown Sunni militant insurgency to topple Shiite Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, a conflict that threatens civil war and a possible break-up of the country.

Obama Friday left himself a clear off-ramp by making military action in Iraq contingent on a "serious and sincere effort by Iraq's leaders to set aside sectarian differences" between the nation's Sunnis and Shiites.

"We can't do it for them," he said. "And in the absence of this type of political effort, short-term military action, including any assistance we might provide, won't succeed."

(With AP and Reuters)

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