WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. military began deploying assessment teams in Baghdad on Tuesday to evaluate the state of Iraqi security forces and decide how to help them counter an Islamist insurgency that has overrun part of the country, the Pentagon said.
Rear Admiral John Kirby, the Pentagon press secretary, said about 40 special operations personnel already in the country and assigned to the U.S. Embassy's Office of Security Cooperation had been deployed as part of the first two assessment teams.
About 90 additional troops arrived in Iraq to begin helping establish a Joint Operations Center in Baghdad with Iraqi forces. Another 50 U.S. military personnel working in the region are expected to arrive within the next few days to create four additional assessment teams, Kirby said.
U.S. military personnel also are flying regular manned and unmanned reconnaissance flights over Iraq - about 30 to 35 per day - to give better insight about the situation on the ground and help the assessment teams, Kirby said.
The deployments took place a day after U.S. officials announced they had received assurances from Baghdad that American troops engaged in the assistance effort would not be prosecuted for any alleged wrongdoing in Iraqi courts.
The agreement, concluded with an exchange of diplomatic notes, overcame a major hurdle that could have prevented U.S. forces from bolstering their presence, meant to help Iraq counter advances by Sunni Islamists from the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL, an al Qaeda splinter group.
U.S. President Barack Obama said last week he would send up to 300 military advisers to examine the situation on the ground and evaluate what the United States could do to help Iraqi forces confront the insurgents. Kirby said 130 of the advisers had now been deployed.
He said the initial group sent to establish the operations centre included intelligence analysts, logistics experts and special operations forces. Kirby said it was a joint operation, with people from all the U.S. military services.
Part of their task would be to assess the "cohesiveness and readiness of Iraqi security forces," Kirby told a Pentagon briefing. He said the teams would report their findings in the next two to three weeks.
"The first phase is assessment, and standing up the Joint Operations Center is a key part of that," Kirby said. He said the teams would help the Pentagon decide on how best to use follow-on adviser teams and would eventually shift to an advise-and-assist role.
The U.S. military also is planning to establish a joint operations centre in northern Iraq, but Kirby said decisions on that would come later.
(Reporting by David Alexander; Editing by David Storey and Lisa Shumaker)