U.S. denies pressuring Iraq on Mosul offensive

Previous comments by senior U.S. officials suggesting the Iraqi army would stage a counter-attack against ISIS

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The U.S. military insisted Friday it was not pressurizing Iraq to launch an offensive to recapture Mosul from Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) extremists in the next few months, saying the timing was up to Baghdad.

Previous comments by senior U.S. officials suggesting the Iraqi army would stage a counter-attack against the ISIS group in the northern city as soon as April or May have provoked an angry response in Baghdad.

But Pentagon press secretary Rear Admiral John Kirby said Washington was not out to force the hand of the Iraqi army before it was ready to launch such a major undertaking.

“I don’t think it’s fair to say that the Pentagon or the military has been pushing the Iraqis on any specific timeline,” Kirby told reporters.

“We haven’t laid a date certain down here at the Pentagon... we’re not pushing or aggressively trying to nudge them towards a faster timeline than they’re going to be ready.”

General Lloyd Austin, who as head of U.S. Central Command oversees the international campaign against the ISIS militants, recently said that Iraqi and Kurdish forces would be ready by the spring or early summer to start an offensive to grab back Mosul -- Iraq’s second-largest city, seized by the ISIS group last June.

And an official with Central Command told reporters last week that “the mark on the wall we are still shooting for is the April-May timeframe.”

The idea was to stage the operation before the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, which starts in mid-June, and before the summer heat kicks in, the official said.

A few days later, Iraq’s defense minister, Khaled Obeidi, expressed irritation that the Pentagon would publicly announce a date for the battle of Mosul.

“A military official should not disclose the date and time of an attack,” Obeidi said.

Analysts and former military officers said the Pentagon might be trying to sow fear among the ISIS group and to build an aura of inevitability about a future operation.

The former supreme allied commander of NATO, James Stavridis, told CNN that Washington may be seeking to “build a narrative” by forecasting the timing of an operation. But he called the move “a mistake.”

The controversy coincided with the arrival of a new defense secretary in Washington, Ashton Carter, who conferred with top commanders and diplomats on the war effort on Monday in Kuwait.

When asked, Carter said he would not publicly discuss the possible timing of any offensive to recapture Mosul.

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