TODAY   |  January 06, 2014

Iraqi forces battle to regain control of 2 cities

As Al Qaeda-linked forces capture two key cities in Iraq, government officials are scrambling to regain control. NBC’s chief Pentagon correspondent Jim Miklaszewski reports.

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>> the u.s. and a lot of concerns about iraq now that al qaeda -linked fighters have overrun two key cities. the iraqi government is facing a major test as it battles to regain control. jim, good morning.

>> reporter: good morning, natalie. the town of fallujah was considered so critical to the war in iraq , they launched two major assaults to take it back from militants. but as of this morning, all of those gains hard-fought and costly gains have been wiped out. islamic militants with direct ties to al qaeda celebrated the takedown of fallujah . armed fighters freely roam the streets as their commanders pledge to punish anyone who supports the government in baghdad. for the first time today, iraqi forces have launched a counter attack. fallujah saw the bloodiest battles of the iraq war . 146 americans were killed liberating the city. but in the past year, al qaeda has struck back with a vengeance. al qaeda -led bombings have killed nearly 8,000 iraqis, highest death toll in six years. the u.s. withdrew all combat forces from iraq two years ago. secretary of state john kerry declared sunday they would not be going back.

>> we're not contemplating putting boots on the ground . this is their fight, but we're going to help them in their fight.

>> reporter: instead, the u.s. could speed up delivery to weapons to the iraqi army , like missiles and surveillance drones.

>> reporter: that's not good enough for two republican senators john mccain and lindsey graham who accuse the obama administration of abandoning iraq . but in what sounded like a policy statement, the white house shot back saying it's not in america's interest to gbogged down in open-ended wars in the middle east .

>> thank you, jim.