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Iraq’s ruling alliance, militias urge PM to seek Russian strikes

By Reuters - Oct 21,2015 - Last updated at Oct 21,2015

BAGHDAD — Iraq's ruling alliance and powerful Shiite militias have urged Prime Minister Haider Al Abadi to request Russian air strikes on Daesh militants, who control large parts of the country, members of the coalition and militias told Reuters.

Growing pressure on Abadi to seek Russian support puts him in the delicate position of trying to appease his ruling coalition, as well as militias seen as a bulwark against the Daesh terror group, while keeping strategic ally Washington on his side.

America's top general, Joseph Dunford, said on a trip to Baghdad on Tuesday that the United States won assurances from Iraq that it would not seek such strikes.

Dunford, on his first visit to Iraq since becoming chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff on October 1, said Abadi and Iraqi Defence Minister Khaled Obeidi both told him they were not seeking Russia's help.

Former Cold War foes the United States and Russia are waging rival campaigns of air strikes in Syria. Speculation has grown that Russia's role could spread to Iraq, where Abadi and the Iranian-backed militias have expressed frustration with the pace and depth of the US campaign against Daesh.

Two members of parliament said the prime minister was under “tremendous pressure” from the ruling National Alliance to request Russian intervention.

Iraq received over $20 billion in US military training since the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003 but its army virtually collapsed when Daesh militants swept through the north last year and made gains in the west.

US-led air strikes have failed to turn the tide in the war against the ultra-hardline militants who have declared a “caliphate” and want to redraw the map of the Middle East.

MPs and alliance members said an official request for Russian air strikes was relayed to Abadi last week and that he has not officially responded.

“Abadi told the meeting parties that it wasn’t the right time to include the Russians in the fight because that would only complicate the situation with the Americans and could have undesired consequences even on long-term future relations with America,” said a senior Shiite politician close to Abadi.

Abadi’s spokesman, Saad Al Hadithi, said the prime minister has not discussed air strikes with Russia. At the same time he was “not ruling out any side that could provide support to Iraq”.

In Baghdad, Dunford pledged to seek new ways to build momentum against Daesh and challenged descriptions of the conflict as a stalemate.

He said he was encouraged by battlefield gains including an advance to secure most of the strategic Baiji oil refinery.

Russia, Iran, Syria and Iraq have formed a Baghdad-based intelligence cell to boost efforts to counter Daesh. The cell has already shared intelligence for air strikes in Iraq and Syria.

Karim Al Nuri, a Badr Brigade spokesman, said an Iranian member of the intelligence-sharing cell had helped in the Baiji refinery operation. That account was confirmed by an official from the Asaib Ahl Al Haq militia.

 

Muen Al Kadhimi, a senior aide to the leader of the Badr Brigade militia, said Russia had proven more decisive in its air campaign in Syria than the Americans so it was only natural to seek Moscow’s help in Iraq. 

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