Iraq crisis latest: US urgently deploys hundreds of armed troops to Baghdad

Soldiers - prepared for combat - tasked with boosting security for American assets

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The Independent Online

The US has announced it is sending more than 250 soldiers to be positioned in and around Iraq as President Barack Obama considers the options available for halting the advance of Sunni militants.

Despite declaring that any involvement would not include boots on the ground, Mr Obama notified Congress that up to 275 military personnel would be deployed to protect US assets including the American Embassy in Baghdad.

The soldiers, of whom 170 have already arrived in Iraq, are prepared and equipped for combat – though the President insisted it is not his intention for any of his troops to engage in direct fighting.

Yesterday he met with his national security team to discuss the deteriorating situation in Iraq, after the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isis) group took the northern city of Tal Afar.

US officials later told reporters that the White House was “considering” the option of sending an additional contingent of Special Forces troops in a mission to train and advise the under-fire Iraqi troops, who rapidly retreated in the face of the sudden militant offensive almost two weeks ago.

Combined, the developments suggest Obama is more than willing to send Americans in to halt the collapse of Iraq, short of direct engagement with Isis.

The White House would not confirm that special operations forces were under consideration. But spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said that while Obama would not send troops back into combat, he has asked for the preparation of “a range of other options that could help support Iraqi security forces”.

Any additional troops sent in would, like those tasked with boosting embassy security, fall under the authority of the US ambassador in Baghdad. But they would not be authorised to engage in combat, except to defend themselves if under attack.

The prospect of an all-out war in Iraq has sparked a potential renewal in relations between the US and Iran, with both sides hinting at the value of cooperation to restore relative order to the country.

And while the White House continues to review its options, Iran's military leaders are beginning to act on the ground.

On Monday the commander of Iran's elite Quds Force, General Ghasem Soleimani, was in Iraq to consult with the government on how to bring a stop to the insurgents’ territorial gains.

Iraqi security officials said the US government was notified in advance of the visit by Soleimani, whose forces are a secretive branch of Iran's Revolutionary Guard that in the past has organised Shia militia attacks on US troops in Iraq and, more recently, was involved in helping Syria's President Bashar Assad in his fight against Sunni rebels.

Discussing other options for an intervention yesterday, the US Secretary of State John Kerry said that drone strikes could prove “important” in halting the Isis advance.

Speaking in an interview with Yahoo! News, he said: “They [drones] are not the whole answer, but they may well be one of the options that are important to be able to stem the tide and stop the movement of people who are moving around in open convoys and trucks and terrorizing people.

“When you have people murdering, assassinating in these mass massacres, you have to stop that and you do what you need to do if you need to try to stop it from the air or otherwise.”

But while the US has positioned three warships in the Persian Gulf, including the USS George HW Bush aircraft carrier, it was announced yesterday that the UK will take no part in any military intervention.

Issuing a statement to the Commons, Foreign Secretary William Hague said that Britain would be looking at the options available to help the Iraqi government without committing to any active engagement.

He said: “We are taking action in three areas: promoting political unity among those who support a democratic Iraqi state and stability in the region; offering assistance where appropriate and possible and alleviating humanitarian suffering.

“We have made it clear this does not involve planning a military intervention by the United Kingdom.”