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Top U.S. general: Iraq did not ask for Russian strikes

U.S. Marine General Joseph Dunford said he had been reassured that Iraqi PM had made no requests for Russian air strikes

Published: Updated:

U.S. Marine General Joseph Dunford played down the chances of any Russian air campaign in Iraq in the near future as he made his first trip to Iraq since becoming the top U.S. military officer this month.

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said on Oct. 1, the same day Dunford took over as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, that he would welcome Russian air strikes against Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in his country.

But Dunford said U.S. officials had since been reassured that Abadi had made no such request to Moscow.

“Subsequent to that, U.S. officials engaged Abadi and he did not request Russian airstrikes,” Dunford told reporters travelling with him.

Russia’s military intervention across the border in Syria has radically changed the landscape in the U.S.-led campaign against ISIS, which seized huge swathes of territory in Iraq and Syria last year.

A senior Iraqi parliamentary figure said last week Baghdad had already begun bombing ISIS jihadists with the help of a new intelligence centre in Baghdad staffed by Russian, Iraqi, Iranian and Syrian officials.

Dunford landed about a half hour later than planned in Erbil, capital of Iraq’s Kurdistan region, after his military aircraft was briefly rerouted by air traffic controllers in Baghdad who were unfamiliar with his flight plans.

Dunford said he was looking forward to getting an update on the battle against ISIS.

“Clearly, being in the job about two weeks, one of the things I wanted to do is go over here, get eyes on the ground,” Dunford said.

The U.S. strategy in Iraq and in Syria hinges on empowering local ground forces, backed by U.S.-led coalition airstrikes, to recapture ground from ISIS, which swept through north Iraq last year and captured the city of Ramadi this past May.

In recent days, U.S. officials have cited progress by Iraqi forces and militia taking territory in the Baiji oil refinery and noted incremental gains around Ramadi.

But the overall campaign is moving slowly, and major objectives like retaking the city of Mosul appear distant.

Dunford was cautious in his comments to reporters before landing, saying he wanted to hear from U.S. and Iraqi officials on the ground. He cited recent operations in Baiji and Ramadi.

“I want to know how those are going, want to get a sense for where we are,” he said.

Dunford was due to meet Kurdistan region’s President Massoud Barzani and U.S. officials.

Kurdish forces in Iraq have emerged as one of America’s strongest partners in the fight against ISIS.

But even in Iraq’s Kurdistan region, signs of political fracturing are mounting and an economic crisis has sent people onto the streets in protest.