After reportedly refusing Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki’s request for American airstrikes against the Sunni extremists threatening to overtake Iraq, President Obama said on Friday that he is now considering “a range of other options that could help support” the country’s security forces. And today, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel ordered a United States aircraft carrier, the USS George H.W. Bush, and two Navy warships carrying long-range missiles to sail from the Arabian Sea to the Persian Gulf. According to a Pentagon statement, the boats will provide Obama with “additional flexibility should military options be required to protect American lives, citizens and interests in Iraq.”
Meanwhile, Iran’s Shiite president, Hassan Rouhani, announced that he would be willing to help Iraq fight the militants of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. Without directly denying reports that Iranian forces were already in Iraq, he said, “Iraqi government asks us for help, we may provide any assistance the Iraqi nation would like us to provide in the fight against terrorism. However, the engagement of Iranian forces has not been discussed.”
ISIS reportedly spent Saturday stalled about 60 miles north of Baghdad. However, residents of the city continued to prepare for a siege as food and gas prices spiked. According to the Associated Press, “thousands” of Shiites from Baghdad and southern Iraq have answered prominent Shiite cleric Ammar al-Hakim’s call for men to mobilize against ISIS: “The volunteers were first taken to an assembly center in eastern Baghdad, where they were handed military uniforms, and later went to Taji, home of Iraq’s largest military base north of Baghdad, to undergo basic training,” the AP reported. The New York Times notes that while the formation of these militias was an “impressive show of support for the government among the Shiite majority, it was hardly a vote of confidence in [Iraq’s] military,” which has been fleeing the insurgents at an alarming rate.
An Iraqi military spokesman, General Qassim Atta, told the Times that “The security in Baghdad is 100 percent stable.” He also said that the Iraqi Army had regained control of some of the areas recently taken over by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, though there is “no clear evidence” to support that claim.