Iraqi Ambassador to U.S.: Help Us Fight ISIS or Else

The Iraqi ambassador to the United States pleaded for more military assistance to combat Sunni militants on Tuesday and issued a blunt warning to the White House: If America doesn’t provide the help Iraq needs, it will reach out to U.S. adversaries such as Iran, Russia, and Syria instead. "Because of the precarious situation now ...

Staff Sgt. Shane A. Cuomo/USAF/Getty Images
Staff Sgt. Shane A. Cuomo/USAF/Getty Images
Staff Sgt. Shane A. Cuomo/USAF/Getty Images

The Iraqi ambassador to the United States pleaded for more military assistance to combat Sunni militants on Tuesday and issued a blunt warning to the White House: If America doesn't provide the help Iraq needs, it will reach out to U.S. adversaries such as Iran, Russia, and Syria instead.

"Because of the precarious situation now facing us, it is difficult for us to decline offers from other countries that share our perceived danger," Iraqi Ambassador Lukman Faily told an audience at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington, specifically referring to Iran and Russia. "We have always tried to resist that but the situation on the ground may push us to acquire more support from our neighbor[s]."

Recently, Moscow, Tehran, and Damascus have stepped up their military support for Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki as he tries to prevent Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham militants from conquering more of central Iraq and continuing their march toward Baghdad. Russia shipped jet fighters and military trainers to Iraq, Syria has mounted airstrikes against ISIS targets, and Tehran has provided Maliki with troops, military advisors, weaponry, and financial support. The Obama administration, meanwhile, continues weighing whether to conduct airstrikes of its own against ISIS. Faily said Iraq's decision to seek support from U.S. adversaries was based "primarily from the need, rather than the desire."

The Iraqi ambassador to the United States pleaded for more military assistance to combat Sunni militants on Tuesday and issued a blunt warning to the White House: If America doesn’t provide the help Iraq needs, it will reach out to U.S. adversaries such as Iran, Russia, and Syria instead.

"Because of the precarious situation now facing us, it is difficult for us to decline offers from other countries that share our perceived danger," Iraqi Ambassador Lukman Faily told an audience at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington, specifically referring to Iran and Russia. "We have always tried to resist that but the situation on the ground may push us to acquire more support from our neighbor[s]."

Recently, Moscow, Tehran, and Damascus have stepped up their military support for Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki as he tries to prevent Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham militants from conquering more of central Iraq and continuing their march toward Baghdad. Russia shipped jet fighters and military trainers to Iraq, Syria has mounted airstrikes against ISIS targets, and Tehran has provided Maliki with troops, military advisors, weaponry, and financial support. The Obama administration, meanwhile, continues weighing whether to conduct airstrikes of its own against ISIS. Faily said Iraq’s decision to seek support from U.S. adversaries was based "primarily from the need, rather than the desire."

The Iraqi military is embroiled in a pitched battle to retake Tikrit, the birthplace of Saddam Hussein, from ISIS. On Tuesday, state-run media said the military successfully cleared the University of Tikrit of extremist militants, but Sunni Islamists still control Iraq’s second-largest city, Mosul, and other parts of the country. ISIS declared that it established a new Islamic caliphate in the territory under its controls in both Iraq and Syria, a goal that militant groups such as al Qaeda spent decades trying — and failing — to accomplish.

Faily said that "because of the urgency on the ground," this was the wrong time for Washington to make U.S. support for Iraq dependent on Maliki either stepping down or truly reaching out to Iraq’s Sunni and Kurdish minorities. Sunni leaders in Iraq’s heartland are so angry with Maliki that they are backing the brutal ISIS, who they believe is willing to take the fight to the Iraqi leader and his Shiite allies. "Don’t condition it," Faily said. "The risk is too immediate. The threat is too important for us to think about conditionality."

The United States is delivering weapons to Iraq, such as F-16 fighter jets, too slowly, Faily said: "The process of delivering those jets did not meet the immediate threat we face."

For more than a year, Baghdad urged Washington to deliver the jets and Apache helicopters as it battled for control of its own country. However, lawmakers repeatedly delayed delivery because of their discomfort with Maliki’s ethno-centric leadership, which disproportionately favors the country’s Shiite population.

Promising progress on creating an inclusive pluralistic governance structure, Faily said that "these issues will be resolved in due time."    

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