US sends missiles, drones to Iraq

The Obama administration has approved plans to send a slew of weapons and equipment to Iraq, as Baghdad continues to battle back against al Qaeda's resurgent terror cell in the country. 

The weapons shipment, first reported by the New York Times, includes 75 Hellfire missiles as well as 10 Navy ScanEagle surveillance drones. 

ADVERTISEMENT
The missiles, the predominant weapon used in U.S-led armed drone strikes, were reportedly delivered to Iraqi forces earlier this month. 

The Navy surveillance drones are scheduled to arrive in Baghdad early next year, a State Department official told CNN

"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," the official said. 

"We remain committed to supporting the government of Iraq in meeting its defense needs in the face of these challenges," the official added. 

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki pleaded with the White House in November to accelerate planned weapons and equipment deliveries, to combat al Qaeda's growing presence in the country. 

Long standing Shia-Sunni tensions in the country, along with various tribal and ethnic conflicts that have defined Iraq's political makeup, have broken out into a series of bombings and attacks not seen since the darkest days of the Iraq war. 

Fanning those sectarian flames has been the rapid resurgence of al Qaeda's Iraqi faction and its expansion into neighboring Syria, where Islamic militants have taken advantage of the ongoing civil war in the country to plant the group's flag. 

That teaming of Iraqi and Syrian terror cells has resulted in a "a major emerging threat to Iraqi stability ... and to us," a senior administration official told reporters in November. 

Aside from the ScanEagle and Hellfire shipments, Baghdad has also pressed Washington for deliveries of F-16 warplanes, M1 Abrams tanks and additional unmanned surveillance drones, backed by American training and intelligence support.