Baghdad pleads for U.S. airstrikes as militants attack oil refinery

Windsor Genova – Fourth Estate Cooperative Contributor

Washington, DC, United States (4E) – Iraq’s government is asking Washington to launch airstrikes against Sunni militants overrunning the country but President Barack Obama is not ready to order such attack due to insufficient intelligence on targets.

Iraq Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari called for the U.S. airstrikes on Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) fighters in a news conference in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia as the militants and Iraqi troops fought for control of the country’s biggest oil refinery and other cities.

Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, confirmed the request to U.S. lawmakers in a hearing on Wednesday.

Iraq’s ambassador to the U.S., Lukman Faily, repeated the request for airstrikes to House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Edward R. Royce (R-Calif.) in their meeting on Wednesday. Royce said Iraq has been requesting for airstrikes since last year.

Dempsey, however, told lawmakers that lack of intelligence in Iraq make it difficult to identify the right targets amid the chaos in northern Iraq. He said Sunni and Shiite forces are intermingled and intelligence photos must be clarified and refined to become more accurate before Obama makes a decision to strike.

Obama briefed congressional leaders on the situation in Iraq on Wednesday as the besieged oil refinery in Iraq was forced to shut down. But the one-hour meeting ended without any decision on dealing with the ISIS onslaught.

The White House said Obama wants Iraq’s leaders to resort to a peaceful political solution of the crisis and unite Iraqis.

There are conflicting reports on the situation in Baiji with police officials there claiming ISIS fighters have taken control of 75 percent of the refinery while Iraq’s chief military spokesman, Lt. Gen. Qassim al-Moussawi claimed the militants were repelled. Moussawi also claimed that Iraqi forces retook neighborhoods in Tal Afar from militants but this could not be independently verified.

Meanwhile, Exxon Mobil Corp. and BP Plc employees started evacuating oil fields in Iraq despite company officials saying their oil production is unaffected by the sectarian fighting.

Exxon said Wednesday it has removed some workers from the West Qurna oil field but operations continue. BP Plc Chief Executive Officer Bob Dudley said non-essential workers were removed as he assured that oil fields south of Iraq remains unaffected by the fighting.

Other western oil companies continue with their drilling in the Kurdistan region of Iraq with Marathon Oil Corp. saying it hasn’t evacuated employees and Chevron saying operations remains normal.

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