US President Barack Obama has threatened military strikes against Sunni militants who have seized key towns in Iraq and are advancing towards the capital, Baghdad.
The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) captured two more Iraqi towns overnight in the south. This follows their capture of Mosul in the far north, the late Saddam Hussein’s hometown of Tikrit, and two towns in Diyala province bordering Iran.
Saadiyah and Jalawla had fallen to the Sunni Muslim insurgents after government troops fled their positions, along with several villages around the Himreen mountains that have long been a hideout for militants, security sources said.
Obama said on Thursday he was considering “all options” to support Iraq’s Shi’ite Muslim-dominated central government that took full control when the US occupation ended in 2011, eight years after the invasion that toppled Saddam.
“I don’t rule out anything because we do have a stake in making sure that these jihadists are not getting a permanent foothold in either Iraq or Syria,” Obama said at the White House, when asked whether he was contemplating air strikes.
“In our consultations with the Iraqis, there will be some short-term immediate things that need to be done militarily,” he said. A US defence official said the United States had been flying surveillance drones over Iraq to help it fight ISIL.
Meanwhile, Iraqi Kurdish forces seized control of Kirkuk, an oil hub, as Iraqi government troops abandoned posts in panic over ISIL’s advance.
The UN Security Council has met on the crisis, highlighting the growing international alarm over the advances by militants.