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US defense chief Carter makes surprise visit to Iraq

US Defense Secretary Carter has made a visit to Iraq as he pushes Arab nations to support anti-"IS" operations. His arrival comes as Saudi Arabia announced a new counterterrorism coalition of Muslim-majority nations.

US Defense Secretary Ash Carter arrived in the Iraqi capital Baghdad for an unannounced visit on Wednesday during his trip to the Middle East.

Earlier in the week, Carter said his trip was to speak to military commanders to "get their latest reading on the battlefield situation and also very importantly their thinking about ways that we can continue to accelerate the campaign to defeat ISIL."

The United States and Western allies, including Germany, France and the UK, have taken steps to widen the military campaign against the "Islamic State" militant group in Iraq and Syria following deadly attacks in Paris and San Bernardino.

Carter has reiterated US President Barack Obama's desire to boost combat support against the militant group, especially among Arab nations.

Speaking at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing last week, the US defense chief said Washington was ready to provide further support to Iraqi forces in their operation to reclaim the key city of Ramadi, after "Islamic State" militants seized it earlier this year.

"The United States is prepared to assist the Iraqi Army with additional unique capabilities to help them finish the job, including attack helicopters and accompanying advisers, if circumstances dictate, and if requested by [Iraqi] Prime Minister Abadi," Carter said at the hearing.

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Saudi-led counterterrorism coalition

Carter's visit comes on the heels of Saudi Arabia's announcement that a new counterterrorism coalition comprising 34 Muslim-majority nations would be headed by Riyadh.

Commenting on the coalition, Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir said the coalition would not categorically rule out ground troops if requested by a member state.

"In general, at least, it appears that it's very much aligned with something that we've been urging for quite some time, which is greater involvement in the campaign to combat ISIL by Sunni Arab countries," said Carter during a visit to the Incirlik air base in Turkey, which is being used to launch airstrikes against the militant group.

The Saudi-led coalition does not include Iraq, Syria or Afghanistan.

ls/sms (Reuters, AP, dpa)

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