U.S. sends missiles and drones to Iraq to fight al-Qaeda
The United States sent Iraq dozens of missiles and surveillance drones to help it combat a recent surge in al-Qaeda-backed violence, officials and media reports said on Thursday.
Hellfire air-to-ground missiles were sent to Iraq's air forces to be used in an ongoing campaign against the country's branch of al-Qaeda, according to officials in Washington and Baghdad.
Two Iraqi intelligence officers and a military officer said that 75 Hellfires arrived on Dec. 19 and more will be shipped in the future.
In statements carried by the Associated Press, the officials said the missiles are being used by four Iraqi King Air propeller planes during a large-scale military operation in the western desert near the borders with Syria.
An intelligence official told AP that the missiles were proven “successful” and were used to destroy four militant camps.
Jen Psaki, a spokeswoman for the U.S. State Department, confirmed the missile shipment and also said that the United States was planning on sending ScanEagle drones.
“The United States is committed to supporting Iraq in its fight against terrorism through the Strategic Framework Agreement,” she said, referring to a 2008 pact between the two nations.
“The recent delivery of Hellfire missiles and an upcoming delivery of ScanEagles are standard foreign military sales cases that we have with Iraq to strengthen their capabilities to combat this threat.”
Hellfires are widely used by U.S. forces in their campaign against al-Qaeda, often targeting militant hideouts or vehicles.
Iraq launched its operation in the largely desert province of Anbar followed the weekend killing of a senior military commander, a colonel and five soldiers in an ambush.
Al-Qaeda is believed to have made use of the war in Syria, which borders Anbar, to rebuild its organization in Iraq.
Hard-line fighters are believed to shuttle between the two countries.
Recent attacks, including the bombing Wednesday of a market near a church in Baghdad, have killed at least 44 people across Iraq, in the worst bloodletting since 2008 when the country was just emerging from a brutal period of sectarian killings.
Militants frequently attack places where crowds gather, including markets, cafes and mosques, in an effort to cause maximum casualties.
Experts say widespread discontent among Iraq's minority Sunni Arab community is a major factor fueling the surge in unrest.