Iraq requests U.S. airstrikes against militants

Iraq has asked the United States to launch air strikes against Sunni Muslim insurgents, the country's foreign minister says

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Iraq has asked the United States to launch air strikes against Sunni Muslim insurgents who have seized swathes of territory, the country’s foreign minister said in Saudi Arabia Wednesday.

Hoshyar Zebari also urged Riyadh, which has warned of a civil war in Iraq, to halt "media incitement" and to support it against "terrorism."

"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 Jeddah, following Arab ministerial consultations.

A top U.S. general confirmed that Baghdad requested air power be used to counter militants from the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), Reuters news agency reported.

The Shiite-dominated government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is facing a growing Sunni-led insurgency which has taken over large swathes of territory in the north of the country.

Last week, ISIS militants seized Iraq’s second-largest city Mosul and have since threated to advance on the capital Baghdad.

Washington has vowed to support the central government but ruled out sending U.S. ground troops.

President Barack Obama has sent a small number of military personnel to Baghdad to strengthen security for the U.S. embassy and is weighing potential military options, including air strikes, to counter the militant onslaught.

Zebari said he held "frank" talks with Saudi officials.

"Our message is that all are requested to stand by Iraq's side against terrorism," he said.

"Saudi Arabia says all [developments in Iraq] were due to marginalisation and sectarianism [against Sunnis]. It did not mention the slaughtering and bloodshed. Hundreds of soldiers have been executed ... The situation can't be looked at from one angle," he said.

"We have had frank discussions with the Saudi leadership about this, and we asked for their help, and to stop media incitement," he said, denouncing "fatwa edicts describing the events as a revolution."

(With AFP and Reuters)

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