US to help against Islamic State militants: Anbar governor

BAGHDAD - Iraq's Anbar province Governor Ahmed Khalaf al-Dulaimi said he has secured a promise of US support in a battle against the Islamic State, reviving an alliance that helped thwart an earlier militant threat, from al Qaeda.

Dulaimi told Reuters his request, made in meetings with US diplomats and a senior military officer, included air support against the militants who have a tight grip on large parts of his desert province and northwestern Iraq. He said that the Americans had promised to help.

"Our first goal is the air support. Their technology capability will offer a lot of intelligence information and monitoring of the desert and many things which we are in need of," he said in a telephone interview. "No date was decided but it will be very soon and there will be a presence for the Americans in the western area."

There was no immediate comment from US officials. After its capture of the northern metropolis of Mosul in June, a swift push by the Islamic State to the borders of the autonomous ethnic Kurdish region alarmed Baghdad and last week drew the first US air strikes on Iraq since the withdrawal of American troops in 2011.

US involvement in Anbar is a far more sensitive matter. The region, sparsely populated and forming much of Iraq's border with Syria, was deeply anti-American during the US occupation. Tribal leaders and local people saw the replacement of fellow Saddam Hussein by a US-backed leadership dominated by Iraq's Shia majority as a threat and took up arms. Al Qaeda fighters flooded in to join them.

Dulaimi was especially concerned by the militants' determination to seize control of Anbar's Haditha dam - they have lately captured Iraq's biggest dam, a fifth oilfield, more towns and areas that are home to vital wheat crops in the north. "The situation in Haditha, where the dam is, is controlled by security forces and tribes. But the problem is how long can they endure the pressure?" said Dulaimi.

"I held several meetings since one month ago with the American embassy and the commander of the central troops all in this regard, and very soon there will be a joint coordination centre and operations in Anbar. They gave a promise." Aside from strong momentum built up in the north and control of large parts of the west, the Islamic State has threatened to march on Baghdad.

On Thursday, Islamic State militants massed near the town of Qara Tappa, 120 km (75 miles) north of Baghdad, security sources and a local official said, in an apparent bid to broaden their front with Kurdish peshmerga fighters. The movement around Qara Tappa suggests they are becoming more confident and seeking to grab more territory closer to the capital after stalling in that region.

"The Islamic State is massing its militants near Qara Tappa," said one of the security sources. "It seems they are going to broaden their front with the Kurdish fighters." While pressing for more territory, Islamic State fighters use fear and intimidation to tighten their grip on towns and cities they control and impose their radical views.

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