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U.S. Voices Support For United Iraq

The president of Iraq's autonomous Kurdistan region, Masud Barzani, arrives for a session of the regional parliament in Irbil on July 3.

The United States has voiced its support for a united Iraq after the leader of Iraq's Kurdish region called for an independence referendum.

Masud Barzani on July 3 asked lawmakers to form a committee to organize a referendum on independence and pick a date for the vote.

The move comes as Iraq faces an offensive by Sunni rebels, led by the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), who have taken control of large parts of northern and western Iraq.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest said Washington believed "that Iraq is stronger if it is unified."

Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki said on July 2 that he rejected statements by the Kurdish regional government that it will maintain control of disputed territory.

The White House also said Vice President Joe Biden met Barzani's chief of staff Fuad Hussein at the White House on July 3.

According to the White House, Biden stressed the importance of forming a more inclusive government in Iraq.

Saudi Troops

A separate White House statement said Biden spoke by phone with Turkey's prime minister and that they agreed on "the importance of supporting lasting security and stability in Iraq."

An unnamed U.S. defense official said on July 3 that Saudi troops are massing along its border with Iraq in response to the ISIL's advance toward the kingdom's frontier.

Meanwhile, U.S. General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the United States is not close to launching a military assault against the insurgents, but "may get to that point" if they become a threat to the American homeland.

Dempsey said he does not believe the United States, at this point, needs to send in an "industrial strength" force with a large amount of supplies to bolster Iraqi troops, adding that the most urgent need is a political solution centered on a more inclusive Iraqi government.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said about 200 U.S. military advisers are in Iraq assessing the situation and they have opened a second joint operating center in the north in Irbil.

The U.S. has more than 750 troops in Iraq, mainly providing security for the embassy and the airport.

Based on reporting by AFP and AP
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