US to deploy about 275 military personnel to Iraq: Obama

US to deploy about 275 military personnel to Iraq: Obama

WASHINGTON - Agence France-Presse
US to deploy about 275 military personnel to Iraq: Obama

Demonstrators chant pro-al-Qaida-inspired Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant in front of the provincial government headquarters in Mosul, June 16. AP Photo

About 275 U.S. military personnel are being deployed to Iraq to help American personnel and protect the embassy in Baghdad, President Barack Obama said June 16 in a letter to Congressional leaders.

The force, which began deploying on June 14, has been sent "for the purpose of protecting U.S. citizens and property, if necessary, and is equipped for combat," Obama wrote.

"This force will remain in Iraq until the security situation becomes such that it is no longer needed." The move comes as jihadists of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) battle Iraqi security forces for control of a strategic northern town and Washington weighs possible drone strikes against the militants.

The ISIL fighters have taken control of a swath of territory north of Baghdad in a drive towards the Iraqi capital launched a week ago.

The White House said in a statement that the U.S. military personnel would help the State Department relocate some embassy staff from Baghdad to the consulates in Arbil and Basra, as well as Amman.

It added that the embassy remained open, and that most personnel were to remain in place in Baghdad. The troops were entering Iraq with the consent of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's government, the statement said.

US, Iran hold brief talks on Iraq

Meanwhile, U.S. officials said U.S. and Iran briefly discussed the crisis in Iraq on the sidelines of a critical fifth round of nuclear talks in Vienna June 16.

The two nations, which have been bitter foes for more than 30 years, are both deeply concerned by a major insurgency by Sunni militants who have overrun swathes of Iraq over the past week.

"The issue did come up briefly with Iran on the margins of the P5+1 in Vienna today, separate from our trilateral meeting" which had included the EU, a senior State Department official said in a statement, asking not to be named.

State Department deputy spokeswoman Marie Harf confirmed to CNN television that there were "brief discussions." It is yet to be determined "if we want to keep talking to Iran about Iraq," she added, acknowledging though that Tehran and Washington had "a shared interest" in ensuring militants don't get "a foothold any more in Iraq." 

But she stressed: "No outside country can fix Iraq's problems. We need Iraq's political leaders from across the spectrum to step up." 

Another U.S. official told AFP no further bilateral talks on Iraq were likely to be held in Vienna, but did not rule out further discussions elsewhere between the traditional foes.

Washington has however ruled out consulting with Tehran on any potential military action.