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BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Iraqi forces have blocked an immediate threat to the capital Baghdad, which means they no longer require immediate U.S. air strikes to halt the advance of Sunni fighters, a senior ally of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki said on Thursday.
U.S. President Barack Obama announced on Thursday that he would send up to 300 military advisors to Iraq. Iraq has asked for air support for its forces battling advancing fighters from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.
The senior Maliki ally welcomed Obama's announcement and said the advisors would help identify ISIL targets which could be hit by air strikes in the future, now that the urgent need to safeguard the capital had receded.
"The U.S. was prepared to bomb certain positions, but once the danger to Baghdad was removed, it bought time,” said the politician, a leading member of Maliki's ruling coalition, speaking on condition he not be identified.
He said the Americans were establishing an intelligence liaison center to help improve the quality of Iraqi intelligence, which the politician described as lacking.
"Once they are down there they will be able to do targeting,” the politician said. “It will help the U.S. prepare and see how it should be involved.”
The Shiite-led caretaker government of Maliki was stunned last week by the surprise fall of Mosul, the north's biggest city, to ISIL and then watched as ISIL raced through central Iraq, within range of Baghdad.
Faced with mass desertions in the north, the army rallied outside Baghdad, backed by Shi'ite militia groups and volunteers answering a call by the country's top Shi'ite cleric.
“They succeeded in blunting the advance and now the goal is to reclaim areas that were unnecessarily lost,” the politician said.
Reporting by Ned Parker; Editing by Peter Graff