US sends Hellfire missiles to Iraq

IRAQ-UNREST

Sabah Arar/AFP/Getty Images

Black smoke fills the air following explosions at a funeral tent in the Sadr City district of Baghdad on Sept. 21, 2013. According to U.N. estimates, more than 8,000 people have been killed since the start of the year in Iraq.

The U.S. has sent Hellfire air-to-ground missiles to the Iraq's air forces, which is using them in an ongoing campaign against the country's branch of al-Qaida, officials in Washington and Baghdad said Thursday.

Two intelligence officers and a military officer said that 75 Hellfire air-to-ground missiles arrived on Dec. 19 and more will be shipped in the future.

They said the missiles are being used now by four Iraqi King Air propeller planes during a large-scale military operation in the western desert near the borders with Syria. An intelligence official said that the missiles were proven "successful" and were used to destroy four militant camps.

Jen Psaki, a spokeswoman for the U.S. State Department, confirmed the missile shipment and also said that the United States was planning on sending ScanEagle drones.

"The United States is committed to supporting Iraq in its fight against terrorism through the Strategic Framework Agreement," she said, referring to a 2008 pact between the two nations. "The recent delivery of Hellfire missiles and an upcoming delivery of ScanEagles are standard foreign military sales cases that we have with Iraq to strengthen their capabilities to combat this threat."

Hellfires are widely used by U.S. forces in their campaign against al-Qaida, often targeting militant hideouts or vehicles.

Iraq launched its operation in the largely desert province of Anbar followed the weekend killing of a senior military commander, a colonel and five soldiers in an ambush.

Al-Qaida is believed to have made use of the war in Syria, which borders Anbar, to rebuild its organization in Iraq. Hard-line fighters are believed to shuttle between the two countries.

According to U.N. estimates, more than 8,000 people have been killed since the start of the year in Iraq.

The Iraqi officials spoke on condition of anonymity as they were not authorized to release information.

AP writer Deb Riechmann in Washington contributed to this report.

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