From VOA Learning English, this is In The News.
Islamic militants have been seizing territory in Iraq this week. A group called the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant, or ISIL, has already captured most of the country’s north.
On Tuesday, ISIL fighters took control of Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city. A day later, the group captured Tikrit, the hometown of former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein. Officials said militants captured two towns in the eastern province of Diyala on Thursday.
A spokesman for the ISIL said its supporters will push into Baghdad, the capital, and on to the Shi’ite Muslim holy city of Karbala. The group says it is seeking to establish an Islamic form of government.
Separately, the security forces of Iraq’s Kurdish north took control of an airbase and other positions in oil-rich Kirkuk. The security forces acted after Iraqi government troops left the posts.
Iraqi government forces have seemingly been powerless to stop the militants. To the west of Mosul, the fighters have taken control of parts of eastern Syria.
The recent developments are seen as cancelling 10 years of work by the United States. The U.S. has spent an estimated $25 billion on training and equipping the Iraqi military since 2003, when the war in Iraq began.
President Barack Obama says he is considering a “range of options” in deciding how to deal with the crisis. He spoke on Thursday to reporters at the White House.
“I don’t rule out anything because we do have a stake in making sure that these jihadists are not getting a permanent foothold in either Iraq or Syria for that matter.”
But his choices are limited. Just two and a half years ago, Mr. Obama brought home the last of the U.S. ground troops in Iraq. And the president has rejected calls to send troops back to the country.
One idea is to use drone aircraft to target the ISIL fighters. The U.S. has used drones to attack suspected militants in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Yemen and Somalia. Drone strikes are often effective in killing small numbers of people. But they are not effective against an army and could endanger civilians.
Stephen Zunes is a Middle East expert at the University of San Francisco.
“This is not a matter of getting a few bad guys and their various hideaways. We’re talking about a rebellion that has thousands of armed men that control a very large swath of territory, including some major urban areas.”
Another option for the U.S. is to provide more training, weapons and intelligence to the Iraqi army. Andreas Krieg is with King’s College London.
“The Iraqi military has, despite all the billions we invested in security sector reform, not really performed in the way we want it to perform. But the Iraqis will obviously be the first line of defense against [ISIL], so they will need to be propped up in one way or another.”
Few experts believe the militants can capture the heavily guarded city of Baghdad. But Andreas Krieg said it is important to stop the ISIL before it can set up an Islamic state in the heart of the Middle East.
“They don't have the fighting force to actually administer the vast territory that they have gained. So I think because they are weak right now, if we act quickly, I think something can be done. But once they consolidate their power over months to come, I think we will face a much bigger problem that we will not be able to contain."
And that’s In the News from VOA Learning English. I’m Steve Ember.
*For the latest news about the situation in Iraq, go to VOANews.com.