The United States was on Friday “urgently and expediently” considering military options, including an air assault, in Iraq to halt the rapid advance of Sunni militants.
But there will be no boots on the ground. “We will not be sending US troops back into combat in Iraq, but I have asked my national security team to prepare a range of other options that could help support Iraqi forces,” President Barack Obama said.
Around 4,500 American soldiers died between the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 and the withdrawal of troops in 2011.
The US deliberations came on a day the insurgent group Isis — or Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, a breakaway al Qaeda group — continued its march across Iraq, where it has captured several cities and towns, bringing the government and military to the brink of collapse.
As Obama weighs his options, the world is watching anxiously. United Nations high commissioner for human rights Navi Pillay warned of “murder of all kinds” and other war crimes, adding that the number of those killed in recent days may run into the hundreds. The escalating violence also saw the price of crude oil touching a nine-month high of $114.69 on Friday as stocks fell across the world.
Read: Iraq implements new plan to defend Baghdad as jihadists inch closer
"Given the gravity of the situation, I would anticipate timely decisions from the President," US secretary of state John Kerry said in London.
With the rebels fast advancing on Baghdad, the country’s top Shia cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Husseini al-Sistani, urged all able-bodied Iraqis to take up arms against them — the most urgent sign yet of the growing desperation of the Shia majority in the face of a resurgent Sunni militant movement drawn from the insurgency in neighboring Syria. His call to arms prompted thousands of volunteers to join the government forces.
Embattled Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki travelled to Samarra, 110km north of Baghdad, where militants were reportedly gathered for a second assault after having taken parts of the city last week.
Later in the day, he claimed some success in pushing back the militants, saying security forces had begun clearing cities of “terrorists” but giving no other details.
Maliki has requested air strikes by the US but there was no clear indication he would get his wish. “I don’t rule out anything because we do have a stake in making sure these jihadists are not getting a permanent foothold in either Iraq or Syria, for that matter,” Obama said.
Read: US pulled back into fires of Iraq War
Watch video: Iraq needs more US help says Obama