The aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush and two other U.S. Navy ships arrived in the Persian Gulf Sunday, as Iraqi troops mobilized to protect their country from a wave of Sunni insurgents taking over cities, and threatening the nation's capital.
The USS George H.W. Bush — accompanied by the guided-missile cruiser USS Philippine Sea and the guided-missile destroyer USS Truxtun — was ordered to the Persian Gulf Saturday to protect American lives and interests in the region.
Meanwhile the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) launched a raid on Tal Afar, a town near the Syrian border, according to security forces and a local official. The Sunni insurgents have already seized several towns and were advancing toward Baghdad.
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President Barack Obama said Friday he would not send troops back to Iraq, but he was consulting with his national security team to "prepare a range of other options."
Obama urged the Iraqi government to deploy its own troops to defend their nation, and Secretary of State John Kerry said Saturday that U.S. assistance would only be effective if Iraqi leaders put aside their differences to combat the surge of attacks.
A call by the country's most influential Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, for Iraqis to defend their country sparked an uprising of Shiite men to pick up their arms and push back the Sunni militants, which seemed to slow their progression toward Baghdad.
The turmoil is far from over though, as a suicide attacker detonated explosives in the center of Baghdad Sunday, killing at least nine people and wounding 20, according to police.
And a series of pictures distributed on what purported to be an ISIS Twitter account showed gunmen from the terrorist group shooting dozens of unarmed men. The authenticity of those pictures has not been independently verified by NBC News.
Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has vowed to defeat the rebel fighters.
U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham on Sunday said that the United States needs Iran's involvement to prevent a catastrophe in Iraq.
"We are probably going to need their help to hold Baghdad," Graham, a South Carolina Republican, said on CBS' "Face the Nation."
"The Iranians have an interest. They have Shia populations to protect. We need a dialogue of some kind," he said.
— Elisha Fieldstadt, with Reuters
First published June 15 2014, 9:06 AM