Last updated: 26 December, 2013

Washington sends missiles and drones to Iraq, reports NY Times

The United States is sending Iraq dozens of missiles and surveillance drones to help combat a recent surge there in Al-Qaeda-backed violence, a State Department official said Thursday.

The official confirmed a New York Times report about the weapons shipment. The daily said 75 Hellfire missiles were purchased by Iraq and delivered by Washington last week.

The State Department official confirmed the “recent delivery” of Hellfire missiles and an “upcoming delivery of Scan Eagles” — reconnaissance drones that are a smaller version of the larger Predator drones that once were frequently flown over Iraq.

“The United States is committed to supporting Iraq in its fight against terrorism,” the official added, saying that the effort aims “to strengthen their capabilities to combat this threat.”

The official added: “We remain committed to supporting the government of Iraq in meeting its defense needs in the face of these challenges.”

Officials in Washington said the support is being sent under the “strategic framework agreement” between Iraq and the United States.

Administration sources told the Times that the weapons delivery comes as the Iraqis had virtually run out of Hellfire missiles.

The weapons shipments are being delivered as Baghdad confronts the worst wave of Islamic militant violence in half a decade.

On Wednesday, at least 44 people were killed in attacks across the country, including the bombing of a market near a church in Baghdad.

The country is seeing the worst bloodletting since 2008, when it was just emerging from a brutal period of sectarian killings.

Militants frequently attack places where crowds gather, including markets, cafes and mosques, in an effort to cause maximum casualties.

Experts say widespread discontent among Iraq’s minority Sunni Arab community is a major factor fueling the surge in unrest.

More than 6,700 people have been killed in Iraq since the beginning of 2013, according to AFP figures based on security and medical sources.