With Islamist militants marching toward Baghdad, the enfeebled Iraqi government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has expressed a willingness to allow the U.S. to conduct airstrikes on the insurgents.
The U.S. withdrew its last troops from Iraq in December 2011—a “new dawn” for the country, the Prime Minister said at the time. However, many believe the resulting power vacuum has permitted insurgent forces to gain traction in the country. Over the past week, the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) and other Islamic fundamentalist groups have seized the major cities of Mosul and Tikrit, and have displaced more than 500,000 Iraqis, according to a report released on Wednesday by the International Organization for Migration.
The country’s Foreign Minister, Hoshyar Zabari, told CNN the situation was “mortal.” CNN, citing unnamed officials, said Washington was looking to see what further support it could provide Baghdad besides the the $15 billion worth of equipment and training it had already given.
On Thursday, a 17-minute audio recording, purportedly of ISIS spokesman Abu Mohammed al-Adnani, emerged urging fighters to “continue [their] march as the battle is not yet raging.”
“It will rage in Baghdad and Karbala. So be ready for it,” it says.
Washington, however, seems to have little appetite to heed Iraq’s plea for more assistance.
“Ultimately, this is for the Iraqi security forces, and the Iraqi government to deal with,” Rear Admiral John F. Kirby, the spokesperson for the Pentagon, told the New York Times on Tuesday.
Meanwhile, as the insurgents approach Baghdad — Tikrit, the hometown of former despot Saddam Hussein, is less than a hundred miles north of the capital — Washington has warned that Americans in the country “remain at high risk for kidnapping and terrorist violence.”
Speculation that the State Department is exercising evacuation procedures could not be independently verified. Speaking at around 6 a.m. local time, a spokesperson told TIME that he could neither confirm nor deny that the U.S. embassy would be evacuated.