US sending arms to Kurds in Iraq

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US sending arms to Kurds in Iraq
MOSUL, IRAQ - AUGUST 8: Militants of Kurdish peshmerga forces on full alert for possible attacks of Islamic State (ISIS) militants around the Mahmur district of Mosul in Iraq on August 8, 2014. (Photo by Ensar Ozdemir/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
MOSUL, IRAQ - AUGUST 8: Militants of Kurdish peshmerga forces on full alert for possible attacks of Islamic State (ISIS) militants around the Mahmur district of Mosul in Iraq on August 8, 2014. (Photo by Ensar Ozdemir/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
Shiite Iraqi Kurdish children, known as 'Shabak', displaced by fierce fighting between Kurdish peshmerga forces and jihadist militants from the Islamic State (IS) sit in the back of a truck on the road between Kirkuk and Arbil after fleeing the area of Bartala near the northern Iraqi city of Mosul, on August 8, 2014. Jihadists seized Iraq's largest dam north of their hub of Mosul, giving them control over the supply of water and electricity for a vast area, officials said. AFP PHOTO / MARWAN IBRAHIM (Photo credit should read MARWAN IBRAHIM/AFP/Getty Images)
Iraqi military personnel distribute water to Shiite Iraqi Kurds, known as 'Shabak', displaced by fierce fighting between Kurdish peshmerga forces and jihadist militants from the Islamic State (IS) after arriving on the road between Kirkuk and Arbil having fled the area of Bartala near the northern Iraqi city of Mosul, on August 8, 2014. Jihadists seized Iraq's largest dam north of their hub of Mosul, giving them control over the supply of water and electricity for a vast area, officials said. AFP PHOTO / MARWAN IBRAHIM (Photo credit should read MARWAN IBRAHIM/AFP/Getty Images)
ERBIL, IRAQ - AUGUST 8: Armed Iraqi Kurds and retired members of Kurdish peshmerga forces deploy on a road linking Erbil and Mosul, to back up the Kurdish peshmerga forces against Islamic State (IS) militants on August 08, 2014 in Erbil, Iraq. (Photo by Hemn Baban/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
LALISH, IRAQ - AUGUST 8: Yezidi children are seen in the Yezidis' most holy site, walley of Lalish located in Northen Iraq, where the Kurdish peshmerga forces stand guard against the Islamic State threat, on August 8, 2014. (Photo by Ensar Ozdemir/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
MOSUL, IRAQ - AUGUST 8: Kurdish peshmerga fighters load missile launcher during the clashes with the army groups led by Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in Mosul, Iraq on 8 August, 2014. (Photo by Feriq Ferec/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
MOSUL, IRAQ - AUGUST 8: Kurdish peshmerga fighters keep guard during the clashes with army groups led by Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in Mosul, Iraq on 8 August, 2014. (Photo by Feriq Ferec/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
MOSUL, IRAQ - AUGUST 8: Kurdish peshmerga fighters keep guard during the clashes with army groups led by Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in Mosul, Iraq on 8 August, 2014. (Photo by Feriq Ferec/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
MOSUL, IRAQ - AUGUST 8: Kurdish peshmerga fighters use missile to fight with the army groups led by Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in Mosul, Iraq on 8 August, 2014. (Photo by Feriq Ferec/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
MOSUL, IRAQ - AUGUST 8: Kurdish peshmerga fighters patrol during the clashes with army groups led by Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in Mosul, Iraq on 8 August, 2014. (Photo by Feriq Ferec/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
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SYDNEY (AP) -- The Obama administration has begun directly providing weapons to Kurdish forces who have started to make gains against Islamic militants in northern Iraq, senior U.S. officials said Monday.

Previously, the U.S. had insisted on only selling arms to the Iraqi government in Baghdad, but the Kurdish peshmerga fighters had been losing ground to Islamic State militants in recent weeks.

The officials wouldn't say which U.S. agency is providing the arms or what weapons are being sent, but one official said it isn't the Pentagon. The CIA has historically done similar quiet arming operations.

The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the operation publicly.

The U.S. Is Arming Kurds to Help Stop Sunni Militants

The move to directly aid the Kurds underscores the level of U.S. concern about the Islamic State militants' gains in the north, and reflects the persistent administration view that the Iraqis must take the necessary steps to solve their own security problems.

A senior State Department official would only say that the Kurds are "getting arms from various sources. They are being rearmed."

To bolster that effort, the administration is also very close to approving plans for the Pentagon to arm the Kurds, a senior official said. In recent days, the U.S. military has been helping facilitate weapons deliveries from the Iraqis to the Kurds, providing logistic assistance and transportation to the north.

The additional assistance comes as Kurdish forces on Sunday took back two towns from the Islamic insurgents, aided in part by U.S. airstrikes in the region. President Barack Obama authorized the airstrikes to protect U.S. interests and personnel in the region, including at facilities in Irbil, as well as Yazidi refugees fleeing militants.

U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, speaking to reporters here, said the airstrikes "have been very effective from all the reports that we've received on the ground." He declined to detail how or when the U.S. might expand its assistance to Iraq, or if military assessment teams currently in Baghdad would be moving to a more active role advising the Iraqi forces.

"We're going to continue to support the Iraqi security forces in every way that we can as they request assistance there," Hagel said during a press conference with Australian Defense Minister David Johnston.

At the same time, the administration is watching carefully as a political crisis brews in Baghdad, and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry warned Iraq's embattled prime minister Nouri al-Maliki to maintain calm among the upheaval.

"We believe that the government formation process is critical in terms of sustaining the stability and calm in Iraq," Kerry said. "And our hope is that Mr. Maliki will not stir those waters."

Speaking in Australia on Monday, Kerry said there should be no use of force by political factions as Iraq struggles form a government. He said the people of Iraq have made clear their desire for change and that the country's new president is acting appropriately despite claims of malfeasance by al-Maliki.

Maliki is resisting calls to step down and says he'll file a complaint against the president for not naming him prime minister.

Kerry noted that Maliki's Shia bloc has put forward three other candidates for the prime minister job and says the U.S. stands with the new president, Fouad Massoum.

Maliki has accused Massoum of violating the constitution because he has not yet named a prime minister from the country's largest parliamentary faction, missing a Sunday deadline.

Hagel and Kerry are in Sydney for an annual meeting with Australian defense and diplomatic leaders.

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