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US mulls airstrikes on Iraq, holds talks with Iran

India TV News Desk 17 Jun 2014, 9:30:00 IST
India TV News Desk
Baghdad: Militants and security forces battled for control of a strategic Shiite town in north Iraq, sparking "chaos" and a mass exodus as Washington and Tehran mooted a landmark meeting over the crisis.

President Barack Obama considered options for military action to support Iraq's besieged government on Monday, and U.S. and Iranian officials held talks to stabilize the region, which has been roiled by the advance of Sunni rebels toward Baghdad.

The assault on the town of Tal Afar, which lies along a critical corridor to war-torn Syria, was the latest in a week-long militant offensive that has spurred the American and Australian embassies to begin evacuating some staff.

Militants from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) jihadist group are also said to have killed scores of Iraqi soldiers as they pushed an advance on the capital, including in a "horrifying" massacre that has drawn international condemnation.

Fighters have entered and taken control of several neighbourhoods of Tal Afar, a Shiite Turkman-majority town in Nineveh province, according to officials and residents today.

Abdulal Abbas, the local official responsible for the town and surrounding area, said Tal Afar was dealing with "martyrs, wounded, chaos and refugees," and that around 200,000 people -- nearly half the area's population -- had fled.

The town, which lies near the Syrian border in otherwise Sunni Arab and Kurdish-dominated Nineveh province, had briefly held off a militant offensive that saw fighters led by ISIL take control of vast swathes of territory north of Baghdad in a matter of days.

Militants also took control of the Al-Adhim area, in Diyala province, north of Baghdad, on Saturday.     

The sweeping unrest has prompted a partial diplomatic evacuation from Baghdad, confirmed thus far by the United States and Australia.
 
Washington also announced that its sprawling embassy -- which sits in Baghdad's heavily-fortified Green Zone -- would receive even more security.

State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said some embassy staff would be "temporarily relocated" to US consulates in the southern port city of Basra, and the northern Kurdish regional capital of Arbil, both of which have been insulated from the latest unrest.

Others would be flown to the US embassy in Amman, Psaki said, citing "ongoing instability."

The Iraqi government insists it is making progress in retaking territory from militants, who currently hold most or parts of four provinces north of Baghdad.