Iraq ups defences as militants near Baghdad

Iraq ups defences as militants near Baghdad

The Iraqi government bolstered Baghdad’s defences on Friday as jihadists pushed towards the capital and US President Barack Obama said he was exploring all options to save Iraq’s security forces from collapsing.

Washington said US companies were evacuating hundreds of staff from a major airbase north of Baghdad as the militants battled security forces just 80 km from city limits.

With militants closing in on the capital, forces from Iraq’s autonomous Kurdish region took control of a swathe of territory they have sought to rule for decades against the objections of successive governments in Baghdad.

Obama said Iraq was going to need “more help from the United States and from the international community” to strengthen security forces that Washington spent billions of dollars in training and equipping before withdrawing its own troops in 2011. “Our national security team is looking at all the options... I don’t rule out anything,” he said.

The Iraqi interior ministry said security forces had adopted a new security plan for the capital to protect it from the advancing militants.

“The plan consists of intensifying the deployment of forces and increasing intelligence efforts and the use of technology such as (observation) balloons and cameras and other equipment,” ministry spokesman Brigadier General Saad Maan told AFP.

“We have been in a war with terrorism for a while, and today the situation is exceptional.”Militants were gathering on Friday for a new attempt to take the city of Samarra, home to a revered Shiite shrine whose 2006 bombing sparked a sectarian war, witnesses said.

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