The U.S. will send as many as 300 military advisers to Iraq to help the government stabilize the situation there and fend off assaults by Sunni militants, President Barack Obama said Thursday.
He included the option of "targeted and precise military action," which has been taken by some to mean airstrikes. He ruled out any possibility of U.S. troops being deployed or taking part in active fighting.
- Live blog: CBC News reports from Iraq
- Sunni, Shia conflict rooted in dispute over Prophet's successor
- Iraqi PM's divisive rule helped create country's crisis
- ISIS in Iraq: Key players in the conflict
The president said he has already taken steps to ensure the safety of diplomatic personnel in the country.
As well, the president said he will send Secretary of State John Kerry to consult with Iraq's neighbours in the region.
Earlier, CBC correspondent Nahlah Ayed said from the northern city of Erbil that a refinery attack there is already having a noticeable impact.
Iraqis are lining up for gasoline for hours, she said. The prices have risen and gas is being limited to about 30 litres per person.
"It is having a real impact on the ground here, and people are nervous across the country," she said.
The campaign by the al-Qaeda-inspired Islamic State militants has raised the spectre of the sectarian warfare since they seized swaths of northern Iraq earlier this month.
In another northern city, Kirkuk, CBC correspondent Sasa Petricic said the city itself is under control of the Kurdish military, but there is fighting in villages just a few kilometres away.
Sunni militants are fighting both the Kurdish military and Iraqi soldiers, he said.
The city is tense, but life goes on, said Petricic. "People are getting their hair cut, people are buying things, they are not leaving the city."
Amid the offensive, Iraq formally asked the U.S. to launch airstrikes against positions of the Islamic State, Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari said.
'The entire enterprise is at risk'
Gen. Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, confirmed the U.S. had received a request for air power to stop the militants, but highlighted the uncertain political situation in Iraq.
"The entire enterprise is at risk as long as this political situation is in flux," told a Senate panel Wednesday. He added that some Iraqi security forces had backed down when confronted by the militants because they had "simply lost faith" in the central government in Baghdad.
The Islamic State has vowed to march to Baghdad and the Shia holy cities of Karbala and Najaf, home to some of the sect's most revered shrines, in the worst threat to Iraq's stability since U.S. troops left in late 2011. The militants also have tried to capture Samarra, a city north of Baghdad and home to another major Shia shrine.
Thursday, the bullet-riddled bodies of four handcuffed men, presumably Sunnis, were discovered in the Shia Baghdad district of Abu Dashir, police and morgue officials said. A roadside bomb hit a police patrol on a highway in the east of the city, killing two police officers and wounding two, police and hospital officials said.
A car bomb also exploded inside a parking lot in Baghdad's southeastern Shia neighbourhood of New Baghdad, killing three people and wounding seven, the officials said.
All officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the journalists.