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U.N. endorses Iraq military force against advancing Islamist rebels

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - The United Nations on Wednesday issued an unusual call for military force, with a senior U.N. official saying the advance of Islamist militants throughout the north and east of Iraq must be dealt with militarily, though success will hinge on a broad political consensus.

Nickolay Mladenov, who as U.N. special envoy to Iraq heads the world body’s political mission there, said Iraq’s key southern oil reserves remained safe. But he raised the estimated civilian death toll to at least 1,300 since the recent fighting began, up from Tuesday’s estimate of more than 1,000.

His remarks came as hardline Sunni militants attacked one of Iraq’s largest air bases.

“The part of the crisis that has been caused by the advances of ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) must be addressed militarily,” Mladenov told reporters at U.N. headquarters via video link from Baghdad. But he cautioned that military solutions alone would not suffice.

He said political cooperation must improve between Iraqi Kurds and the Baghdad government. Also, military solutions must be based on an Iraqi-led plan and reflect a national consensus.

“The threat that is posed by ISIL affects every community in this country,” Mladenov said, reiterating previous U.N. calls for an inclusive Iraqi government.

He added that much of Iraq’s oil supplies remain safe.

“The largest refinery in Iraq at the city of Baiji continues to be disputed,” he said. “Government forces still remain in control of the refinery itself, however fighting is continuing.”

“Oil fields in the south of the country, which are the vast majority of the reserves ... remain safe and in areas that are under control of the central government,” Mladenov added.

Mladenov urged countries in the region to comply with Security Council resolutions banning funding for al Qaeda and ISIL.

“In terms of financing and the flow of vehicles and weapons that ISIL possesses, clearly the organization is quite well funded,” he said.

He said ISIL had different sources of funding and supplies, some from war-torn Syria, including racketeering inside Iraq. The looting of Mosul’s central bank alone netted the al Qaeda-linked group $400-450 million, Mladenov said.

“The people who came across the border from Syria (into Iraq) were well trained, well equipped and clearly very well prepared,” he said, adding that very few of them were Iraqis.

Mladenov said he could not confirm reports of Syrian government bombing of ISIL along the Syrian-Iraqi border.

“What we understand is these were not Iraqi jets, however we have no more information than that,” he said. “I do not believe that it has had any substantial impact on the situation on the ground.”

He said both ISIL and government forces have committed human rights violations, including summary executions. He said the U.N. mission was investigating.

Mladenov also went further than his recent comments about the threat facing the Iraqi capital, saying that the advance of ISIL on Baghdad has halted.

Reporting By Louis Charbonneau; Editing by David Gregorio