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Obama Mulls Increasing Aid To Iraq To Retake Ramadi

U.S. President Barack Obama met with his national security advisers on May 19 to consider providing accelerated training and weapons supplies for Iraqi tribes to help them retake Ramadi from the Islamic State.

"We are looking at how best to support local ground forces in Anbar" Province, National Security Council spokesman Alistair Baskey told AFP, "including accelerating the training and equipping of local tribes and supporting an Iraqi-led operation to retake Ramadi."

The White House, which is under increasing criticism from Republicans in Congress over the loss of Ramadi to IS forces over the weekend, said Obama welcomed a decision May 19 by the Iraqi Council of Ministers to expand recruitment into the Iraqi Army and work with authorities in Anbar Province to more quickly train and equip local tribes.

Obama "reaffirmed the strong U.S. support" for Iraqi Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi, the White House said after the meeting, which involved 25 advisers including Vice President Joe Biden, Secretary of State John Kerry, Defense Secretary Ash Carter, and General Lloyd Austin of the U.S. Central Command.

The White House is concerned about the risk of sectarian strife in Ramadi, the capital of Sunni-majority Anbar Province, because of the need to use Shi'ite militias to try to take back the city from IS fighters.

The White House meeting came as thousands of Iranian-backed Shi'ite militiamen gathered east of Ramadi in preparation for a counteroffensive.

Anbar police chief Kadhim al-Fahdawi said on May 19 that a large number of well-prepared troops were positioned in Husaybah, some seven kilometers from Ramadi.

He said the area will be the "starting point" for operations, but that much planning remained to be done.

Earlier, some 3,000 militiamen were said to be "on stand-by" at the Al-Habbaniyah military camp, which is farther from Ramadi.

The mobilization came as the U.S.-led coalition said it conducted 21 air strikes since May 18 targeting IS militants -- seven in Syria and 14 in Iraq, including four near Ramadi.

Meanwhile, Iraqi forces and allied Sunni tribesmen reportedly repelled an IS attack overnight on Khaldiya, which lies between Fallujah and Ramadi.

Putting pressure on the White House, House speaker John Boehner (Republican-Ohio) on May 19 added his voice to a chorus of critics in Congress who accuse the president of having no strategy to fight IS.

Boehner lamented the militant group's takeover of the strategically important city and said Obama should draft a new request for war powers to fight IS.

He contended that the war powers legislation the White House submitted to Congress earlier this year is inadequate and would provide Obama with less authority than he has today to try to defeat the extremist group.

Based on reporting by AFP, AP, Reuters, and the BBC