Iraq's PM under mounting fire as US holds back on strikes

Iraq's PM under mounting fire as US holds back on strikes

BAGHDAD - Iraq's leader faced mounting criticism on Friday for his Shi'ite-led government's failure to do more to woo the Sunni Arab minority as US President Barack Obama promised military advisers but no immediate air strikes.

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki - once seen as acceptable to both long-time foes Iran and the US - was criticised by a litany of American officials as well as Iraq's most revered Shi'ite cleric, who also warned that time was running out to expel Sunni militants who have seized a vast swathe of northern and north-central Iraq.

Mr Obama, who based his political career on ending US involvement in Iraq, has insisted the United States was not slipping back into the morass, and warned Mr Maliki and his Shi'ite ally Iran that promoting sectarianism would spell disaster.

Teheran hit back, saying that Mr Obama lacked a "serious will" to fight terrorism after he left unheeded a request from Baghdad for US air strikes against the militants.

The militant offensive, led by the jihadist Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) group but also involving loyalists of executed Sunni Arab dictator Saddam Hussein, has further threatened Washington's already-damaged legacy in Iraq.

"Going forward, we will be prepared to take targeted and precise military action if and when we determine that the situation on the ground requires it," Mr Obama said on Thursday, as he announced the offer of up to 300 military advisers.

The offer was the most concrete action announced by Washington since the crisis erupted on June 9 but fell short of Iraq's request for air strikes and drew derision from Iran, which had offered its cooperation despite decades of enmity.

"Delaying the fight against terrorism and ISIL and putting conditions on it have fuelled suspicions and doubts about the United States' objectives in Iraq," Deputy Foreign Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian said.

"Obama's comments show the White House lacks serious will in fighting terrorism in Iraq and the region."

The crisis in Iraq has raised questions over whether Mr Maliki, who is seeking to retain the premiership after an April 30 general election, will continue in office.

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