White House spokesman Jay Carney said late on Monday that the US would expediate planned deliveries of air-to-surface Hellfire missiles and surveillance drone aircraft to Iraq, after the country's military lost control of the western city of Fallujah.
Fighters from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), a group with ties to al Qaeda, have seized Fallujah in the western Anbar province, as well as large parts of the region's capital, Ramadi.
US Vice President Joe Biden spoke with Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki by telephone on Monday, and "expressed concern for those Iraqis who are suffering at the hands of terrorists," a White House statement said.
Biden also called Osama al-Nujaifi, the speaker of parliament at Iraq's Council of Representatives and a prominent Sunni critic of the Shiite-led government.
"Prime Minister Maliki affirmed the importance of working closely with Iraq's Sunni leaders and communities to isolate extremists," the White House said.
The UN estimated that 8,868 people were killed in Iraq in 2013. It is the highest toll in five years, evoking memories of the sectarian insurgency that peaked in 2006 after the US-led invasion of the country in 2003. Some Sunni leaders in Fallujah on Monday asserted that ISIL fighters had left the city, leaving them in charge. Fallujah was a key stronghold for Sunni fighters during the Iraqi insurgency.
Appeal for local resistance
Iraqi state television reported that Prime Minister Maliki urged "the people of Fallujah and its tribes to expel the terrorists" so "their areas are not subjected to the danger of armed clashes." The report also said Maliki had ordered troops to avoid strikes on residential areas, with a large military operation to reclaim the city believed to be imminent.
Despite the withdrawal of US troops from Iraq at the end of 2011, Washington remains a key provider of military equipment for the government in Baghdad. The decision to withdraw all troops from the country at the end of 2011, after Washington and Baghdad failed to reach a deal on leaving a contingent on the ground, has encountered some criticism in the US since Fallujah fell.
"If members [of Congress] were suggesting that there should be American troops fighting and dying in Fallujah today, they should say so," White House spokesman Carney said. "The president doesn't believe that."
Secretary of State John Kerry said during his Middle East visit at the weekend that while the US would offer what support it could to Maliki's government, "this is a fight that belongs to the Iraqis."
Neighboring Iran has also offered "equipment and advice" to Baghdad.
msh/ph (AFP, AP, dpa)