The Iraqi government never asked for and does not need any US involvement in ground operations against Islamic State terrorists. The eye-opening statement came only a day after the Pentagon promised its partner more ground support if it was required.
“This is an Iraqi affair and the government did not ask the US Department of Defense to be involved in direct operations,” spokesman Sa’ad al-Hadithi told NBC News. “We have enough soldiers on the ground.”
Hadithi made it clear that any involvement of US forces that stretches beyond their “train and advise” mission must be cleared with Baghdad – as mandated under international law.
Thus far Iraq has only cleared a US air campaign over its territory against Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL). For now, Hadithi stressed, Iraq only needs US support in “arming and training [Iraqi] forces.” Around 3,300 US troops are involved in the mission in Iraq.
The statement by the Iraqi government follows a statement made by US Defense Secretary Ash Carter about America’s intent to step up US military activity in Iraq and Syria, where US forces have been conducting air raids against IS targets. Carter’s statement also comes just days after American forces participated in a raid to rescue IS hostages in Iraq.
The US will resort to “direct action on the ground” against ISIS both in Iraq and Syria, if needed, Carter said in a testimony before the Senate Armed Services committee on Tuesday.
“We won’t hold back from supporting capable partners in opportunistic attacks against ISIL, or conducting such missions directly whether by strikes from the air or direct action on the ground,” Carted stated.
The White House, however, stressed that the Obama administration has “no intention of long-term ground combat,” according to deputy press secretary Eric Schultz, but instead will stick to training, advising and assisting the Iraqi forces.
The recent attempt by Washington to produce the results of a year-long air campaign against IS comes as Russia continues its successful air-support for the Syrian army, which has been driving IS back from many of its strongholds.
In fact Moscow is coordinating its air strikes in Syria with a command center based in Baghdad, where all the intelligence is shared between the participating coalition partners – Russia, Iraq, Iran and Syria.
Reports earlier this month also indicated that Baghdad might eventually ask Moscow to conduct a similar air campaign over Iraq, a move that might tilt the military balance in the region, where the US has held a firm grip over a decade.