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More US troops to Iraq; special forces considered

By Lara Jakes

Associated Press

Published: Monday, June 16 2014 5:42 p.m. MDT

The troops would fall under the authority of the U.S. ambassador in Baghdad and would not be authorized to engage in combat, another U.S. official said. Their mission would be "non-operational training" of both regular and counter terrorism units, which the military has in the past interpreted to mean training on military bases, the official said.

However, all U.S. troops are allowed to defend themselves in Iraq if they are under attack. Already, about 100 Marines and Army soldiers have been sent to Baghdad to help with embassy security, according to a U.S. official.

The three U.S. officials all spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to publicly discuss the plans by name.

Obama made the end of the war in Iraq one of his signature campaign issues, and has touted the U.S. military withdrawal in December 2011 as one of his top foreign policy successes. But he has been caught over the past week between Iraqi officials pleading for help — as well as Republicans blaming him for the loss of a decade's worth of gains in Iraq — and his anti-war Democratic political base, which is demanding that the U.S. stay out of the fight.

While the White House continues to review its options, Iran's military leaders are starting to step into the beach.

The commander of Iran's elite Quds Force, Gen. Ghasem Soleimani, was in Iraq on Monday and consulting with the government there on how to stave off insurgents' gains. Iraqi security officials said the U.S. government was notified in advance of the visit by Soleimani, whose forces are a secretive branch of Iran's Revolutionary Guard that in the past has organized Shiite militias to target U.S. troops in Iraq and, more recently, was involved in helping Syria's President Bashar Assad in his fight against Sunni rebels.

In the short term, the U.S. and Iran both want the Shiite-led government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki stabilized and the Sunni-led insurgency stopped. But in the long run, the United States would like to see an inclusive, representative democracy take hold in Iraq, while predominantly Shiite Iran is more focused on protecting Iraq's Shiite population and bolstering its own position as a regional power against powerful Sunni Arab states in the Gulf.

State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said any discussion with Iran would concern ways that Iran could help press al-Maliki's government to be more inclusive and treat all of Iraq's religious and ethnic groups equally.

Any talks with Iran "would be to discuss the political component here and our interest in encouraging Iraqi leaders to act in a responsible, nonsectarian way," she told reporters. "Certainly a discussion of that is something that we would be open to."

AP writers Matthew Lee, Lolita Baldor and Ken Dilanian contributed to this report.

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