Militants invade two Iraqi towns; President Obama weighing options

BAGHDAD (AP) – Iraqi officials say al-Qaida-inspired militants who this week seized much of the country’s Sunni heartland have pushed into an ethnically mixed province northeast of Baghdad, capturing two towns there.

Police officials said Friday that militants driving on machine gun-mounted pickups entered the towns of Jalula and Sadiyah in Diyala province on Thursday night. Jalula is 125 kilometers (80 miles) and Sadiyah is 95 kilometers (60 miles) from Baghdad.

The officials say Iraqi soldiers abandoned their posts there without any resistance. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to media.

President Barack Obama is weighing a range of short-term military options, including airstrikes, to quell an al-Qaida inspired insurgency that has captured two Iraqi cities and threatened to press toward Baghdad.

Speaking in the Oval Office, the president said: “We do have a stake in making sure that these jihadists are not getting a permanent foothold.”

However, officials are firmly ruling out putting American troops back on the ground in Iraq, which has faced resurgent violence since the U.S. military withdrew in late 2011. A sharp burst of violence this week led to the evacuation of Americans from a major air base in northern Iraq where the U.S. had been training security forces.

Nearly all American troops left Iraq in December 2011 after Washington and Baghdad failed to negotiate a security agreement that would have kept a limited number of U.S. forces in the country for a few more years at least.

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