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Iraq asks Chuck Hagel military equipment and increased air strikes on IS militants

By Tajuddin
Dec 9th, 2014
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, second right, walks with his Iraqi counterpart, Khalid Obeidi, left, in Baghdad on Dec. 9. AP

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, second right, walks with his Iraqi counterpart, Khalid Obeidi, left, in Baghdad on Dec. 9. AP

Baghdad ( Agencies + DIPLOMAT.SO) Iraq’s leaders told Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel on Tuesday that local security forces want an increase in airstrikes and American-made weaponry in their fight to defeat Islamic State militants.

The appeal by Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Abadi conveys the mounting pressure from Baghdad to ramp up efforts against the Sunni Muslim extremists as their campaign enters its fifth month.

“We are very thankful for the support that’s been given to us,” Abadi said. “Our forces are very much advancing on the ground. But they need more air power and more … heavy weaponry. We need that.”

The U.S. has launched about 600 airstrikes across Iraq since Aug. 8 and has provided loads of military weaponry to the country, including 5,000 laser-guided Hellfire missiles this year.

Abadi said the Islamic State had acquired extensive weaponry and remained able to move back and forth between Iraq and Syria.

He made the request to Hagel during a meeting at a Saddam Hussein-era palace that serves as the prime minister’s offices.

Hagel touched down at Baghdad International Airport in a C-17 military cargo plane Tuesday morning, marking his first visit to Iraq since the U.S. began launching military operations against the Islamic State.

Although Hagel’s visit has been planned for weeks, the Pentagon has worked to keep it quiet. He was met on the wind-swept runway by Army Lt. Gen. James L. Terry, the commander in charge of U.S. operations against the Islamic State.

President Obama has authorized deploying as many as 3,100 U.S. troops to the country, most of whom have yet to arrive. The Pentagon plans to establish two advise-and-assist operations centers outside Baghdad and Irbil, and use several sites to accommodate the training of 12 Iraqi brigades — nine in the Iraqi army and three made up of Kurdish fighters, known as peshmerga.

A brigade in Iraq can range from fewer than 1,000 soldiers to more than 3,000.

The administration said Americans would be barred from accompanying Iraqi troops on combat operations, in keeping with Obama’s vow not to send ground troops back to Iraq.

“Our role has to be a support role,” Hagel said, addressing troops at the airport. “It is their country. They have to lead.”

Hagel’s visit is the culmination of a five-day trip that took him to key U.S. military installations in Afghanistan, Kuwait and Iraq to talk with commanders, international heads of state and troops deployed throughout the region.

Hagel also visited the Iraqi presidential palace, a giant sand-colored structure next to the Tigris River in Baghdad, where he met with Iraqi President Fouad Masoum and his advisors in a formal reception room.

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