(CNSNews.com) - The United States says it is helping Iraq's Shi'ite-dominated government fight al Qaida and its Sunni allies, who have seized parts of two cities, Fallujah and Ramadi, in western Iraq.
Secretary of State John Kerry said on Sunday the United State will not send troops, but on Monday, State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said U.S. help will come in the form of missiles and drones:
"Obviously, we have an ongoing close partnership on counterterrorism issues, are absolutely standing by them to help them in this fight," Harf told reporters on Monday. "We are continuing to accelerate our foreign military deliveries, our FMS deliveries, to Iraq, are looking to provide an additional shipment of Hellfire missiles as early as this spring.
"These missiles are only one small element of a holistic strategy here, but they have proven effective at denying ISIL (the al-Qaeda-linked group called "Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant") safe haven zones it sought to establish in western Iraq. This is on top of the 75 Hellfires we delivered in December.
"In addition to these, we will also be providing ten ScanEagle surveillance UAVs in the upcoming weeks and 48 Raven surveillance UAVs later this year. So these are, for lack of a better term, surveillance drones. These will help the Iraqis track terrorist elements who are operating within the country.
"We also obviously have another -- a bunch of other things we're providing to them (including Aerostat surveillance balloons and Bell IA 407 helicopters, White House spokesman Jay Carney said); but we're also continuing to advise and assist the Iraqis in developing strategies with the understanding that security operations only work in the long term if used with political initiatives and outreach to all of Iraq's political leaders."
Asked how the United States can be sure that the weapons won't be used against the political opponents of Iraq's Shi'ite President Nouri al-Maliki, Harf said the military assistance is "to the Iraqi government. It's not to any one person in the Iraqi government. I should be clear about that," she said. "Obviously, we're close partners with them. We work together on all these issues. I have no indication that anything we have given them is being used in any nefarious way."
On Sunday, Secretary of State Kerry said the Obama administration won't be sending troops back to Iraq. "We're not contemplating putting boots on the ground. This is their fight, but we’re going to help them in their fight.”
Harf, echoing Kerry and other administration officials, said Iraq is experiencing "long-standing sectarian tensions" that are being "exploited" by terrorists in Syria.
In Iraq itself, "There's a lot of different groups, different factions, different parties on the ground. It's very complicated," she said. "And that's why we've said we're encouraging moderates within all of these different groups to step up, as we've seen them do in the past, take control of Iraq's future. As they do we will stand by them and help them in this fight, certainly, but it's up to them to make these choices."
Harf told reporters that even when the United States had 160,000 troops in Iraq, the country experienced sectarian tensions and terrorist violence, and terrorists still went back and forth across the Syrian border.
"The long-term solution wasn't to keep American troops there. It was to give the Iraqis the opportunity and help them build their capabilities to fight this fight themselves."
On Monday afternoon, Vice President Joe Biden spoke by phone with the Iraqi president, telling him that the United States "stands with Iraq in its fight against" al-Qaida-linked groups.
According to a White House statement, "The Vice President expressed concern for those Iraqis who are suffering at the hands of terrorists and praised the recent security cooperation between Iraqi Security Forces and local and tribal forces in Anbar province. Prime Minister Maliki affirmed the importance of working closely with Iraq’s Sunni leaders and communities to isolate extremists. The Vice President and Prime Minister agreed to continue to deepen the U.S.-Iraq security partnership under the Strategic Framework Agreement."