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A bleak U.S. military assessment warns that many Iraqi military units include members of Shiite militias trained by advisers from Iran, and a senior defense official said the U.S. is also concerned about Sunni infiltrators. The assessment complicates the American effort to help Iraqi security forces as they fight the Sunni militant group known as ISIS.

Defense officials also told NBC News that the United States is unlikely to support the Iraqi military with airstrikes. One senior official said airstrikes could be seen as an attack on Sunni elements in Iraq, and the U.S. is pushing for Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, a Shiite, to be more inclusive. “We don’t want to do anything that would inflame sectarian violence,” the official said. “We’re not going to become Maliki’s private air force.” Defense officials do leave open the possibility that the U.S. could launch airstrikes against ISIS leadership targets in what they call a “counterterrorism and containment” strategy if it is determined that ISIS presents a terror threat to the U.S. or its interests.

Iraq: Lines in the Sand

June 19, 201401:45

IN-DEPTH

— Jim Miklaszewski and Courtney Kube