The White House signaled on Wednesday that it was looking to strengthen Iraqi forces to help them deal with an insurgency rather than to meet what one U.S. official said were past Iraqi requests for U.S. airstrikes.
An Obama administration official who spoke on condition of anonymity said Iraq had previously made clear its interest in drone strikes or bombing by manned U.S. aircraft to help it beat back rebel fighters.
Sunni rebels from an Al-Qaeda splinter group overran the Iraqi city of Tikrit on Wednesday and closed in on the biggest oil refinery in the country, making further gains in their rapid military advance against the Shia-led government in Baghdad.
The threat to the Beiji refinery came after armed fighters from the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) seized the northern city of Mosul, advancing their aim of creating a Sunni Caliphate straddling the border between Iraq and Syria.
The White House, however, suggested that airstrikes were not at the top of its agenda as it considers what it may do to help the Iraqi government against an insurgency that has drawn strength from the civil war in neighboring Syria.
"While the national security team always looks at a range of options, the current focus of our discussions with the government of Iraq and our policy considerations is to build the capacity of the Iraqis to successfully confront and deal with the threat posed by ISIL," White House national security council spokeswoman Bernadette Meehan said in an emailed comment.
The White House declined to confirm U.S. news reports that Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki had request U.S. airstrikes.
"We are not going to get into details of our diplomatic discussions but the government of Iraq has made clear that they welcome our support" against the rebel fighters, Meehan said.
"We have expedited shipments of military equipment since the beginning of the year, ramped up training of Iraqi Security Forces, and worked intensively to help Iraq implement a holistic approach to counter this terrorist threat," she added. "Our assistance has been comprehensive, is continuing and will increase."