Iraqi PM, militias reject any foreign ground troops

Iraqi militia leader Hadi al-Amiri of the Badr Brigades Shiite militia explains a battle plan to his fighters near the front line, on the outskirts of Fallujah, Anbar province, Iraq. (File photo: AP)

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said on Tuesday his country did not need foreign ground troops, after the United States said it was sending an elite special unit to help combat ISIS.

“The Iraqi government stresses that any military operation or the deployment of any foreign forces - special or not - in any place in Iraq cannot happen without its approval and coordination and full respect of Iraqi sovereignty,” Abadi said in a statement.

Meanwhile, powerful Iraqi Shiite Muslim armed groups on Tuesday rejected and pledged to fight any deployment of U.S. forces to the country.

Defense Secretary Ash Carter offered few details on the new “expeditionary” group, but said it would be larger than the roughly 50 U.S. special operations troops being sent to Syria to fight the ultra-hardline Sunni militants there.

A U.S. defense official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the new force will be based in Iraq.

“We will chase and fight any American force deployed in Iraq,” said Jafaar Hussaini, a spokesman for one of the groups, Kata’ib Hezbollah. “Any such American force will become a primary target for our group. We fought them before and we are ready to resume fighting.”

Spokesmen for the Iranian-backed Badr Organization and Asaib Ahl al-Haq made similar statements to Reuters, expressing their distrust of American forces after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein and the subsequent occupation.

The militias, grouped with volunteer fighters under a government-run umbrella, are seen as a bulwark in Iraq’s battle against ISIS, the biggest security threat to the oil-exporting country since Saddam’s fall.

Russia’s larger military role in neighboring Syria, and its participation in a security coordination cell in Baghdad that includes Iran and Syria, may be deepening U.S. fears that it is losing more strategic ground to rivals in one of the world’s most critical regions.

Speaking to the House Armed Services Committee, the Pentagon chief said earlier that a “specialized expeditionary targeting force” would be deployed to help Iraqi and Kurdish Peshmerga forces battle the ISIS group. He did not say how many troops would be involved.

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The Special Forces will also be able to intervene in neighboring northern Syria, where Washington previously announced it is sending about 50 special operations troops in a non-combat role.

“These special operators will over time be able to conduct raids, free hostages, gather intelligence, and capture ISIL leaders,” he said, using an alternative acronym for the group.

“This force will also be in a position to conduct unilateral operations into Syria.”

President Barack Obama has said the United States would not send large-scale, “boots on the ground” deployments of American troops to fight ISIS jihadists, and instead would intensify its air campaign against the group.

In late October, Obama authorized sending about 50 special operations forces to Syria in a non-combatant, advisory role to help coordinate local ground troops and anti-IS coalition efforts.

This marked the first official deployment of U.S. troops on the ground in Syria since an international coalition formed last year to counter the jihadist group.

Carter said the Pentagon is “prepared to expand” the role of these troops in Syria.

“American special operators bring a unique suite of capabilities that make them force multipliers,” Carter said.

“Where we find further opportunity to leverage such capability, we are prepared to expand it.”

U.S. lawmakers regularly haul senior officials into Congress to testify about the progress of the U.S.-led effort to counter ISIS jihadists in Iraq and Syria.

The United States has been leading a coalition fighting ISIS in both countries since August last year and, though there are about 65 nations in the coalition, American warplanes and drones are doing the lion’s share of the work.

Despite more than a year of daily plane and drone strikes against the ISIS group, the United States is still struggling to defeat the jihadists.

Carter was joined by his top commanding officer General Joe Dunford. Asked whether the ISIS group had been “contained,” Dunford said: “We have not contained ISIL.”

Speaking more than two weeks after terror attacks in Paris left 130 dead, Carter called on international powers to ramp up efforts to defeat ISIS.

“The international community -- including our allies and partners -- has to step up before another attack like Paris,” he said.

“The more contributions we receive from other nations, the greater combat power we can achieve using our own force.”

His comments come as the British parliament prepares to debate whether the Royal Air Force should start bombing in Syria.

In a related story, the German cabinet on Tuesday approved a mandate offering military assistance to back the international fight against ISIS following the Paris attacks.

The package, which still requires parliamentary approval, covers Tornado reconnaissance jets, a naval frigate and up to 1,200 troops following a French request, the government said in a statement.

(With AFP and Reuters)

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Last Update: Wednesday, 20 May 2020 KSA 09:49 - GMT 06:49
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