NEW YORK: The United States is sending missiles and drones to Iraq to counter attacks by al-Qaeda, which have killed more than 8,000 Iraqis this year, officials said.
A shipment of 75 Hellfire missiles was sent to Iraq last week and 10 ScanEagle reconnaissance drones are scheduled to be delivered by March, the New York Times reported Thursday.
State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki warned Sunday al-Qaeda-backed insurgents are “seeking to gain control of territory inside the borders of Iraq.”
The affiliate, she said, is a “common enemy of the United States and the Republic of Iraq, and a threat to the greater Middle East region.”
Michael Knights, an expert on Iraqi security at the Washington Institute for Near East policy questioned the lack of armed drones being sent to Iraq.
“The real requirement today is for a long-range, high-endurance armed drone capability,” he said. “There is one place in the world where al-Qaeda can run a major affiliate without fear of a U.S. drone or air attack, and that is in Iraq and Syria.”
Iraq’s foreign minister has suggested the idea of having U.S.-operated armed Predator or Reaper drones respond to the al-Qaeda threat though Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki hasn’t formally requested such intervention, Bernadette Meehan, a spokeswoman for the National Security Council said.
Al Qaeda’s regional affiliate, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, has become a potent force in northern and western Iraq, the newspaper pointed out. Riding in armed convoys, the group has intimidated towns, assassinated local officials, and in an episode last week, used suicide bombers and hidden explosives to kill the commander of the Iraqi Army’s Seventh Division and more than a dozen of his officers and soldiers as they raided a Qaeda training camp near Rutbah.
Bombings on Christmas in Christian areas of Baghdad, which killed more than two dozen people, bore the hallmarks of a Qaeda operation, the report said.