Washington: Sunni militants in Iraq have seized a chemical weapons facility that was once part of the military arsenal of deposed dictator Saddam Hussein.
The facility contains a stockpile of weapons, according to an analysis by the US-backed Iraq Study Group after the 2003 invasion.
"We are aware the that the ISIL has occupied the Al Muthanna complex," a US State Department spokesperson told Fairfax Media. "We remain concerned about the seizure of any military site by the ISIL. We do not believe that the complex contains CW materials of military value and it would be very difficult, if not impossible to safely move the materials."
Chemical warfare agent filled aerial bombs await destruction at the Al Muthanna complex Iraq, in an undated file photo. Photo: Reuters
The news comes as US President Barack Obama has announced he was not planning to launch airstrikes in support of Iraqi troops fighting the ISIL militants, but would not rule out future "targeted and precise military action."
He said this would not include returning US combat troops to Iraq, but announced the deployment of 300 special forces troops to Iraq to act as advisers to Iraq forces and provide surveillance and intelligence. This deployment comes on top of the reinforcements already sent to strengthen defences at the US' sprawling Baghdad embassy.
"We have had advisers in Iraq through our embassy, and we're prepared to send a small number of additional American military advisers – up to 300 – to assess how we can best train, advise, and support Iraqi security forces going forward," Mr OBama said during a White House press conference.
"American forces will not be returning to combat in Iraq, but we will help Iraqis as they take the fight to terrorists who threaten the Iraqi people, the region, and American interests as well.
"We will be prepared to take targeted and precise military action, if and when we determine that the situation on the ground requires it. If we do, I will consult closely with Congress and leaders in Iraq and in the region."
Mr Obama said a stable and unified Iraq was in the best interest of the US and the region but that the US "will not pursue military options that support one sect inside of Iraq at the expense of another".
Asked if he believed Iraq's Shia Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who has been blamed for inflaming sectarian divisions in Iraq, could still lead a unified nation, Mr Obama declined to endorse him.
"It's not our job to choose Iraq's leaders," he said. "Part of what our patriots fought for during many years in Iraq was the right and the opportunity for Iraqis to determine their own destiny and choose their own leaders. But I don't think there's any secret that right now at least there is deep divisions between Sunni, Shia and Kurdish leaders. And as long as those deep divisions continue or worsen, it's going to be very hard for an Iraqi central government to direct an Iraqi military to deal with these threats."
Mr Obama said America still had deep differences with Iran, which has deployed troops to Iraq to battle ISIL forces, but that he feared a full Iranian intervention might exacerbate the violence.
"Our view is that Iran can play a constructive role if it is helping to send the same message to the Iraqi government that we're sending, which is that Iraq only holds together if it's inclusive and that if the interests of Sunni, Shia and Kurd are all respected," Mr Obama said.
"If Iran is coming in solely as an armed force on behalf of the Shia, and if it is framed in that fashion, then that probably worsens the situation and the prospect for government formation that would actually be constructive over the long term."