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Iraq asks US for air power
03:13 - Source: CNN

Story highlights

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Baghdad, Iraq CNN  — 

While Iraq’s military claimed Wednesday to have driven back militants battling for control of the country, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff told Congress that the United States has received a request from the Iraqi government to use its air power in the conflict.

Gen. Martin Dempsey, the senior ranking member of the U.S. armed forces, spoke before the Senate Appropriations Committee Wednesday on Capitol Hill in Washington, saying that the United States’ “national security interest (is) to counter (ISIS) where we find them.”

ISIS is the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

Comprising mostly Sunni Muslims, ISIS is an al Qaeda splinter group that wants to establish a caliphate, or Islamic state, that would stretch from Iraq into northern Syria. The group has had substantial success in Syria battling Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s security forces. Since launching their offensive in Iraq, ISIS claims to have killed at least 1,700 Shiites.

Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis have fled, prompting fears of a brewing humanitarian crisis.

Qassim Atta, a spokesman for Iraqi security forces, on Wednesday night said an investigation had been ordered into 59 high-ranking security officials accused of leaving their posts. The officials could be executed if found guilty, Atta said.

Concerns over an oil refinery in the Iraqi town of Baiji continued, a key consideration because so much of Iraq’s economy depends on its oil production. The country produces 3.3 million barrels per day and has the world’s fourth-largest proven crude oil reserves, according to OPEC.

Militants attacked the refinery complex, managing to take over some 60% of it, and set fire to five storage containers, according to police officials. Sporadic clashes are ongoing, they said.

Earlier, Atta said in a televised news conference that Iraqi forces had killed 40 ISIS militants in Baiji, 225 kilometers (140 miles) north of Baghdad, the capital.

“The situation in Tal Afar, Samarra, and Baiji is under control,” Atta said.

Atta claimed that Iraq’s military were “defeating ISIS in the Baiji area” and that “most of the areas” around the northwestern city of Tal Afar were liberated.

That apparently included 50 Siemens employees, including eight Germans, who were holed up in a power station in Baiji but have been freed, according to German officials. The employees are safe and well, CNN was told.

According to German diplomats, around 8,000 German nationals are currently in Iraq.

Tal Afar fell to ISIS on Sunday, according to Iraq’s military. Many Tal Afar residents, including ethnic minority Shiite Turkmen, fled the fighting north toward Iraq’s Kurdish region.

The casualty numbers and the situation on the ground have not been independently confirmed by CNN.

Saudi government denial