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US secretly sends Hellfire missiles, drones to Iraq

In an attempt to beat back gains by Al-Qaeda-linked insurgents, the United States is moving “dozens” of Hellfire missiles and surveillance drones into Iraq.

According to a report by The New York Times, the decision comes  after Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki requested help  from US President Barack Obama during a meeting in Washington  last month.

The situation in Iraq has become a serious concern over the last  year, as insurgents from the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria –   Al-Qaeda’s regional affiliate – spread through western and  northern parts of the country, as well as nearby Syria. More than  8,000 Iraqis have been killed in 2013. That figure includes three  bombings that killed nearly 40 people on Christmas Day.

Despite the movement of missiles – 75 Hellfire missiles are being  sent to Iraq alongside 10 ScanEagle surveillance drones – some  experts believe the US response to be insufficient without the  deployment of more powerful military weapons, such as armed  drones. While Iraq’s foreign minister has suggested an  American-run drone operation as a possibility, Maliki – who is  likely running for a third term as prime minster – has yet to  make such a request.

“We have not received a formal request for US-operated armed  drones operating over Iraq, nor are we planning to divert armed  I.S.R. over Iraq,” Bernadette Meehan, a spokeswoman for the  National Security Council, told The New York Times.

According to Michael Knights of the Washington Institute for Near  East Policy, the reconnaissance drones aren’t likely to turn the  tide against the insurgents, considering their small range.

“The real requirement today is for a long-range,  high-endurance armed drone capability,” Knights said.   “There is one place in the world where Al-Qaeda can run a  major affiliate without fear of a US drone or air attack, and  that is in Iraq and Syria.”

For its part, the Obama administration has stated that the  current shipment of military supplies will be helpful because  Iraq has essentially used up its cache of missiles, has no real  air presence, and has little surveillance capability.

Other plans to provide Iraq with supplies have also stalled in  Congress, where a bill to lease and sell the country’s Apache  helicopter gunships to Baghdad is languishing among concern that  Maliki would use them to bully his political rivals. In the  absence of American action, Maliki has purchased MI-35  helicopters from Russia.

Since the departure of US forces in 2011, Al-Qaeda has been able  to re-establish its presence in Iraq by feeding off of Sunni  resentment towards Maliki’s Shiite government. Through its base  in Syria, the insurgents are able to deploy nearly 40 suicide  bombers a month against Iraqi Shiites and Sunnis unwilling to  fall under their rule.

According to local police officer Ayad Shaker, it doesn’t help  that the country’s military capabilities aren’t as strong as they  should be.

“I fought Al-Qaeda,” he said. “I am sad today when I  see them have the highest authority in Anbar, moving and working  under the sun without deterrent.”



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