USA TODAY US Edition
IRAQ DOESN’T WANT HELP FROM RUSSIA, TOP U.S. OFFICER SAYS
General examines options to boost battle against Islamic State
The United States’ top military officer said Tuesday that Iraq is not planning to turn to Russia for airstrikes and other military assistance in its fight against Islamic State militants.
“Both the minister of Defense and the prime minister said absolutely there is no request right now for the Russians to support them,” Marine Gen. Joe Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said after a daylong visit to Iraq. Dunford met with Iraqi and coalition officials.
“I said it would make it very difficult for us to be able to provide the kind of support you need if the Russians were here conducting operations as well, providing air support,” Dunford said.
Iraq’s prime minister, Haider al-Abadi, views the U.S.-led coalition as the country’s main ally in its fight against Islamic State militants, said Dunford, who is wrapping up a four-day Middle East trip. Dunford met with al-Abadi, Defense Minister Khaled alObeidi and other officials in his first overseas trip as chairman of the Joint Chiefs.
The coalition has conducted airstrikes against Islamic State militants for more than a year in Iraq and Syria.
The United States has been critical of Russia’s airstrikes in Syria, saying they are aimed at bolstering the regime of Bashar Assad, not at defeating the Islamic State. “We continue to believe that Russia’s strategy in Syria is counterproductive, and their support for the Assad regime will only make Syria’s civil war worse,” Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook said.
After Russia began its air campaign in Syria last month, al-Aba- di suggested he might welcome Russian airstrikes, raising concerns about Iraq’s commitment to the U.S.-led coalition and Russia’s expanding military role in the Middle East. Iraqi officials have complained that coalition airstrikes were not effective.
Last month, Iraq said it reached an agreement with Russia, Iran and Syria to share intelligence in the fight against the Islamic State. Dunford said Iraqi officials told him the intelligence office is not yet functioning.
Dunford has said he is looking at options that could bolster the assistance the United States provides to Iraq’s military, citing recent successes the country’s armed forces have had against the Islamic State.
The United States has about 3,400 troops in Iraq to train and support Iraq’s military. Much of the country’s armed forces had to be rebuilt after a crushing defeat at the hands of the Islamic State, also called ISIS or ISIL, last year.
“We’re going to look at a wide range of things that we could do to help the Iraqis generate momentum and reinforce the successes that they’re starting to have,” Dunford said.
Iraq’s military retook control of the nation’s largest oil refinery near the town of Beiji in recent days, said Maj. Michael Filanowski, a coalition operations officer. The refinery had been fought over for more than a year.