Iraq Turns to UN for Military Aid, After U.S. Reportedly Declines Request to Bomb Jihadists

Obama says looking at all options, U.S. prepared to take military action when its interests are threatened.

Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant
Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant members. AP

Iraqi Ambassador to France Fareed Yasseen called on the United Nations Security Council to approve extra military aid for Baghdad, including air and drone support, when it meets in New York later in the day. 

Meanwhile, U.S. President Barack Obama said he is looking at all options in helping the Iraqi government face down the growing insurgency.

"I don't rule anything out," Obama said when asked whether the United States is considering drone strikes or any other action to stop the insurgency. Obama, speaking to reporters at the White House as he met Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott, said the United States has an interest in making sure jihadists do not gain a foothold in Iraq.

He said there will be short-term immediate actions that need to be done militarily in Iraq, and that his national security team is looking at all options. He said the United States is prepared to take military action when its national security interests are threatened.  

The Iraqi request for military aid follows a report in the New York Times that Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki asked Obama's administration to bomb the jihadists, and was turned down.

Yasseen said as far as he knew the Iraqi government had not yet asked the United States to launch air strikes on Islamist militants who appeared to be marching towards Baghdad, adding Iraqi special forces were now stabilizing the situation north of the capital.

"We need equipment, extra aviation and drones," Yasseen said, when asked on France Inter radio what Iraq wanted from the Council.

According to the New York Times, al-Maliki secretly asked the Obama administration to consider air strikes against militant staging areas as the threat from Sunni insurgents mounted last month, citing U.S. and Iraqi officials. The United States is said to have declined these requests.

The Times quoted American experts who visited Baghdad earlier this year as saying they were told that Iraqi leaders hoped American air power could be used to hit the militants' staging and training areas inside Iraq, and help Iraq's forces stop them from crossing into the country from Syria. 

Also on Thursday, Turkey's Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag said his nation's government is not working on any new mandate to authorize a cross-border military operation into Iraq, where militants are holding 80 Turkish nationals hostage.

"The issue of whether the existing mandate is sufficient (for a military operation) or a new mandate is required is among the issues being discussed. But right now there is no work being conducted for a new mandate," Bozdag told reporters in Ankara.

A parliamentary mandate allowing Turkey to conduct cross-border military operations in Iraq expires in October. It was drafted to enable Ankara to strike at bases of Kurdish PKK militants in the north of the country.

On Wednesday, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said that "any harm to our citizens and staff would be met with the harshest retaliation."

Government officials say that Turkey is negotiating for the release of the hostages and cannot confirm reports that some of them have been freed.

"There are reports in the media about our citizens being released but we can't confirm these reports at this stage," a Turkish official said. "We have been holding negotiations since yesterday to secure our citizens and these negotiations are still ongoing."

The pro-government Turkish newspaper Yeni Safak reported that the hostages, who include diplomatic staff, children and special forces soldiers, had been released to the Iraqi governor of Mosul and would be brought to Turkey later on Thursday.

Cetin Nuhoglu, chairman of Turkey's International Transport Association, told Reuters that 31 of the hostages - a group of truck drivers being held at a power station - had been freed but were apparently trapped at the site because of poor security in Mosul following its capture by the militants.