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US Reaffirms Support for Iraq in Fight Against Militants

The United States has reaffirmed its support for Iraq in its fight against al-Qaida-linked militants and says it will accelerate U.S. military sales and deliveres to the nation.

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden spoke by telephone Monday with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who stressed the importance of working with the country's Sunni leaders to isolate extremists.

White House spokesman Jay Carney said the U.S. would send more surveillance drones and Hellfire missiles to Iraq this year but that Iraq must take the lead and handle the conflict itself.

Earlier Monday, Mr. Maliki urged residents and tribes in the besieged city of Fallujah to "expel" al-Qaida-linked militants in order to preempt a military offensive that officials said could be launched within days.



His message on state television came as dozens of families were fleeing the city in fear of a major showdown.

Iraqi government troops have surrounded Fallujah, which lies in western Sunni-dominated Anbar province and which was overrun along with most parts of the provincial capital, Ramadi, by al-Qaida fighters last week.

Mr. Maliki, a Shi'ite whose government has little support in Sunni Fallujah, also said in his address that he ordered security forces not to strike residential areas.

Security officials said the prime minister had agreed to hold off an offensive for now to give tribal leaders in Fallujah more time to drive out the Islamist militants on their own.

On Sunday, fighting between Iraqi security forces and Islamist fighters killed at least 34 people and government forces launched an air strike on Ramadi.

Insurgents from the al-Qaida-linked Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant have been fending off government forces and allied tribal fighters, including some Sunnis who oppose the militants.

Violence between Iraq's Shi'ite-led government and the Sunni minority has killed thousands over the last year.

The Sunnis accuse the government of ignoring their needs and shoving them to the political sidelines. Iraqi officials accuse the Sunnis of involvement in terrorism.

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