Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has ordered an aircraft carrier, the USS George H.W. Bush, to move from the northern Arabian Sea to the Persian Gulf as President Barack Obama considers possible military options for Iraq this weekend.
Hagel's press secretary, Rear Adm. John Kirby, says the order will give the president added flexibility if military action is required to protect American lives, citizens and interests in Iraq. Accompanying the carrier will be the guided-missile cruiser USS Philippine Sea and the guided-missile destroyer USS Truxtun. The ships are expected to complete their move into the Gulf late Saturday. The ships carry Tomahawk missiles, which could reach Iraq. The Bush is carrying fighter jets that could also easily get to Iraq, where a fast-moving Islamic insurgency is gaining territory.
Officials said, thousands of Shiite men from Baghdad and across southern Iraq are answering an urgent call to arms, joining security forces to fight the Islamic militants who have captured large stretches of territory north of the capital and now threaten Samarra and other cities with revered religious shrines. The mobilization has a clear sectarian slant. State-run television has been airing a constant flow of nationalist songs and interviews with troops vowing to crush the militants, while other broadcasts have been showing clips of Iraq's top Shiite clerics and shots of Shiite shrines. But Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki denies the call to arms is directed against Sunnis, saying it's meant to protect the country and its holy shrines. He's calling for the unity of all Iraqis. The crisis has sent food prices soaring in Baghdad as army troops go house-to-house searching for militants and weapons in neighborhoods close to government installations. Saturday, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant gained more territory. A local official in Diyala province says the Sunni militants seized a small town about 60 miles north of Baghdad after Iraqi security forces pulled out.