WASHINGTON – A lack of U.S. military support in battling ISIS militants has forced the Iraqi government to accept military aid from countries such as Russia and Iran,the Iraqi ambassador to the U.S. said Tuesday.
Many U.S. officials have criticized any U.S.-Iraqi collaboration with Iran in combatting Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.
“Increased military assistance,including targeted airstrikes,is crucial to defeating this growing threat,” Lukman Faily,Iraqi ambassador to the U.S. said Tuesday at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. “Time is not on our side. It is not on our neighbor’s side,and it is not on the United States’ side. Delays only benefit the terrorists.”
The U.S. is the Iraqi government’s partner of choice,Faily said,but in the face of continuing threats from militants,Iraqis “would accept what was available” from neighboring countries,including Iran. Iran has repeatedly offered military assistance – something the Iraqi government has traditionally tried to resist.
President Barack Obama notified Congress on Monday that he was sending 200 service members to reinforce security at the U.S. embassy and Baghdad International Airport. They are in addition to 300 sent earlier.
The Iraqi government’s plea for aid comes as ISIS,a Sunni Islamist militant group that aims to establish sharia law in Iraq and neighboring countries,continues its battle with the Iraqi government over territory. On Monday,ISIS declared parts of Syria and Iraq an Islamist Caliphate – or Islamic state. At least 2,417 Iraqis have been killed and another 2,287 injured in acts of terrorism and violence in June alone,according to the United Nations. More than 60 percent of those killed were civilians.
“Over the course of the last several years,the United States has provided significant assistance to the Maliki government in the form of training,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest said in a briefing Monday. “There have also been a number of military sales from the United States to Iraq to try to support the Maliki regime.”
A U.S. shipment of F-16 fighter jets is scheduled to be delivered to Iraq later this year. Faily said that’s too late,which prompted the Iraqi government to buy fighter jets from Russia that arrived this week.
Faily rejected criticism that the Iraqi government was too focused on military tactics instead of finding a political solution – something Iraqi officials have said is their ultimate goal.
Marwan Muasher,the vice president for studies at Carnegie and a former Jordanian diplomat,said he doubts the Iraqi government’s ability to maintain a “fragile” democracy. He said Iraq’s problems go beyond ISIS,citing examples such as the desire of the Iraqi Kurds to separate from Iraq.
“Iraqi officials have not given us an idea of what political process is envisioned in the country to get Iraq out of this crisis. Today many people fear the future of Iraq as a state,” Muasher said.
Iraq has not faced a challenge of this caliber since its creation,Faily said. The political process has been delayed because priority has been given to achieving basic security. He rebuked U.S. government demands that Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki step down so a new government can be formed.
“It’s an easy solution to just blame somebody for this crisis,” Faily said. “That is A) unfair and B) unrealistic,or I would say,unachievable. Why would we deny someone with 100 seats in parliament a vote?”
Faily said he was optimistic Iraq would be able to hold free and fair elections later this year.
“Iraq has its own domestic challenges,yes. The process is not smooth. We move one step forward two steps backward sometimes two steps forward and two steps backward,” Faily said. “I think that’s natural for a new democracy.”
Reach reporter Anna Giles at [email protected] or 202-326-9861. SHFWire stories are free to any news organization that gives the reporter a byline and credits the SHFWire.