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U.S. sending missiles, drones to help Iraq government fight al Qaeda

By Elise Labott and Tom Cohen, CNN
updated 6:46 PM EST, Thu December 26, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • A shipment of 75 Hellfire missiles arrived last week
  • Surveillance drones also are being sent
  • Violence by al Qaeda affiliates has increased in Iraq
  • Two Christmas Day car bombs kill at least 38 people

Washington (CNN) -- Two years after bringing home U.S. troops from Iraq, the Obama administration is sending Hellfire rockets and ScanEagle surveillance drones to help government forces fight al Qaeda affiliates growing in influence, a State Department official confirmed to CNN on Thursday.

As first reported by The New York Times, a shipment of 75 Hellfire rockets bought by Iraq arrived last week. Plans call for 10 ScanEagle drones to be sent in the early months of 2014.

"The recent delivery of Hellfire missiles and an upcoming delivery of ScanEagles are standard FMS (foreign military sales) cases that we have with Iraq to strengthen their capabilities to combat this threat," the State Department official said on condition of not being identified. "We remain committed to supporting the government of Iraq in meeting its defense needs in the face of these challenges."

State Department spokeswoman Jennifer Psaki recently noted that terrorists were "seeking to gain control of territory inside the borders of Iraq."

Increasing violence in parts of Iraq has highlighted the security challenges facing the country since the departure of U.S. forces at the end of 2011.

On Christmas Day, two car bombs targeting Christians killed and injured more than 100 people in southern Baghdad.

One exploded outside a church just as worshipers were leaving a Christmas service, while another went off at an outdoor market where many Christians shop, police said.

At least 38 people died in the two bombings that wounded some 70 others, the Interior Ministry said, and the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad condemned the attacks.

"The Christian community in Iraq has suffered deliberate and senseless targeting by terrorists for many years, as have many other innocent Iraqis," an embassy statement said. "The United States abhors all such attacks and is committed to its partnership with the government of Iraq to combat the scourge of terrorism."

Iraq has experienced an uptick in sectarian violence this year because of simmering tensions between the disaffected minority Sunni community and the dominant Shiites, who control the government.

CNN's Barbara Starr, Lateef Mungin, Mohammed Tawfeeq and Joe Sterling contributed to this report.

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