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Congress leaders to meet Obama on Iraq

US congressional leaders will meet President Barack Obama in the White House to discuss the deteriorating security situation in Iraq, officials said.

WASHINGTON: US congressional leaders will meet President Barack Obama on Wednesday in the White House to discuss the deteriorating security situation in Iraq, officials said.

Democratic and Republican officials said the top four lawmakers - House Speaker John Boehner, House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Republican leader Senator Mitch McConnell - will sit down with the President at 3:00 pm (1900 GMT).

The meeting is "a part of (Obama's) ongoing consultations with congressional leadership on foreign policy issues, including the situation in Iraq," a White House official said Tuesday.

Obama and congressional leaders are expected to discuss how the United States should respond to rapid advances made by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant in an offensive that has overrun a wide swath of the country in a matter of days.

McConnell "asked the President to provide us with a strategy and a plan and it's his hope that those will be provided at the meeting," a McConnell aide told AFP.

Washington appears to have been caught flat-footed on the crisis in Iraq, where Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki is grappling with the most serious unrest since the US military exited in late 2011.

Maliki's forces have collapsed in the face of waves of battle-hardened Sunni fighters that have taken over several northern cities and towns and are pressing toward the capital Baghdad.

White House spokesman Jay Carney said Obama "will continue to consult with his national security team in the days to come," and that the President directed the team "to develop a range of options" for stabilizing Iraq.

While Obama assured that no US combat troops would return to Iraq, the administration said it was deploying extra troops to protect its embassy in Baghdad, and was mulling air strikes against militants who have seized key cities.

Senator John McCain, who has blasted the administration for not leaving a residual force of a few thousand troops in Iraq after the final military departure, said US forces should be on the ground there.

"Not very many. Just to use as close air support," McCain told reporters.

"And no combat troops. It just helps to have people on the ground to identify targets, that's all. And that would be a handful of probably special forces."

Other lawmakers took a more cautious approach.

"We have to be very careful that we don't end up in a situation where we heighten the support for the rebels among the Sunnis in the north," said Senator Angus King, an independent who mostly votes Democratic.

"If indeed we do anything, it's got to be conditioned on Maliki opening up his government," King said.

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