Middle East

Iraq crisis: Obama to set out 'US offensive against IS'

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Media captionSpeaking on NBC's Meet the Press, Mr Obama said that the US would "systematically degrade their [IS's] capabilities"

US President Barack Obama is to set out his "game plan" against Islamic State militants in a speech on Wednesday.

Mr Obama, who has been criticised for failing to outline a strategy, told NBC TV the US would degrade IS, shrink their territory and "defeat them".

US jets bombed IS targets in western Iraq for the first time on Sunday.

Meanwhile, the Arab League has vowed to take "all necessary measures" against IS, which has seized a huge amount of territory from Iraq and Syria.

The league gave its backing to a Security Council resolution passed last month calling on member states to stem the flow of weapons and money to extremists in Iraq and Syria.

BBC World Service Middle East editor Sebastian Usher says the Arab League's message will hearten Mr Obama, but the question now is whether its members will fully act on it, and act together rather than against each other.

'No ground troops'

Speaking on NBC's Meet the Press, Mr Obama said: "I'm preparing the country to make sure that we deal with a threat from Isil."

IS, also often referred to as Isil or Isis, has taken over large swathes of Iraq and Syria in recent months, declaring the land it controls a "caliphate".

Mr Obama went on: "On Wednesday, I'll make a speech and describe what our game plan's going to be going forward."

Image copyright AP
Image caption IS fighters have taken large swathes of Iraq and Syria. Here they parade in Raqqa, Syria

He said he would "start going on some offence" against IS.

But the strategy was "not going to be an announcement about US ground troops", he added.

He said: "This is not the equivalent of the Iraq war. What this is, is similar to the kinds of counterterrorism campaigns that we've been engaging in consistently over the last five, six, seven years.

"I just want the American people to understand the nature of the threat and how we're going to deal with it and to have confidence that we'll be able to deal with it."

Mr Obama said the strategy would not involve the US alone but would be one pursued by an international coalition.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Iraqi forces have gained ground in the north with the help of US air strikes

He said: "We are going to be able to not just blunt the momentum of Isil. We are going to systematically degrade their capabilities. We're going to shrink the territory that they control. And ultimately we're going to defeat them."

The interview was conducted on Saturday, shortly after Mr Obama returned from the Nato summit in Wales, where the grouping agreed to take on IS.

Mr Obama made his "no strategy" comment last month when asked whether he needed Congress's approval to "go into Syria".

BBC North America editor Jon Sopel says that while it showed how complex the situation in the region was, it also showed the extreme wariness of the president to unilaterally start military action when it was not clear where it would end.

Hagel warning

The US military said Sunday's five strikes involved bomber and fighter aircraft and were in support of Iraqi security forces and Sunni tribes protecting the Haditha dam - a major source of energy in Iraq.

It said militants' armoured vehicles, some carrying anti-aircraft artillery, were destroyed. The US said all its aircraft left the area safely.

Iraqi troops and militia also retook Barwana, east of Haditha, from the jihadists, an AFP correspondent reported.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Fighters have been taking off from the USS George HW Bush in the Gulf to strike in Iraq

Analysis: Jim Muir, BBC News, northern Iraq

The American air attacks, the first of their kind in Anbar province, signal that Washington has crossed a line that it itself drew.

It has long had a standing request from the outgoing Iraqi government to use its air power against IS in all areas. But until recently, it made it clear it would only do that once a new, inclusive government is formed in Baghdad, with full Sunni representation.

That hasn't yet happened, though intensive efforts are under way to produce a new cabinet in the coming days.

The US has carried out more than 130 air strikes since early August to support Iraqi and Kurdish forces fighting IS in northern Iraq, but these were the first in Anbar.

US Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel said: "If that dam would fall into [Islamic State's] hands or if that dam would be destroyed, the damage that that would cause would be very significant."

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Media captionChuck Hagel: "Haditha dam is a critically important facility"

Islamic State fighters have targeted a number of dams in their offensive, capturing the facility at Fallujah.

They also took the largest dam, at Mosul, but US air strikes helped force them out.

The group has so far failed in its attempts to capture Haditha dam, on the Euphrates valley. It is Iraq's second largest dam.

Separately, the governor of Anbar, Ahmed al-Dulaimi, was wounded in fighting in the province, the army said.

It said a mortar round had wounded Mr Dulaimi in the town of Barwana shortly after it was retaken from IS on Sunday.

Image caption Key Iraqi dams taken or at risk of being taken by Islamic State