(CNSNews.com) – Iraq will have no choice but to look to countries like Iran and Russia for help if the United States cannot provide urgently-needed military aid in its fight against a Sunni insurgency led by al-Qaeda-inspired jihadists, Baghdad’s envoy to the U.S. warned Tuesday.
“We desperately need United States’ assistance to turn the tide,” Ambassador Lukman Faily told an audience at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
“We believe that immediate and increased military assistance, including targeted airstrikes, are crucial to defeat this growing threat,” he said, adding, “Time is not on our side.”
“In the precarious situation now facing us it is difficult for us to decline offers of assistance from any other country who shares our perceived danger,” Faily said, in reference to offers from Iran and Russia.
Faily’s appeal came on the same day Iraq’s new parliament met according to a constitutional deadline in a bid to name key posts in a new government – but failed to do so when Sunni and Kurdish lawmakers walked out in protest.
The U.S. maintains that in order to confront their country’s grave security crisis Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and other leaders need to agree on forming a government in which majority Shi’ites and minority Sunnis and Kurds all feel they have a stake.
Iraq has formally requested the U.S. to carry out airstrikes on Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) jihadists, but to no avail.
The most tangible U.S. assistance sent to Iraq since ISIS-led insurgents made significant territorial gains last month was the deployment of 300 military advisors who set up joint operational centers and are supporting Iraqi security forces. President Obama has also sent hundreds of additional personnel to bolster security at the U.S. Embassy and the international airport in Baghdad.
But Iraq is keen to speed up delivery of crucial equipment, most notably 36 F-16 fighters. Russia in recent days moved quickly to send five used Sukhoi SU-25 fighter jets to the Iraqi forces.
Iran, long a supporter of the Shi’ite-dominated government, offered Tuesday to provide weaponry and send military advisors – although not troops – to help it face the insurgency. The commander of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Quds Force is believed to have been in Baghdad for several weeks already.
And Maliki also received a boost when military aircraft of Syria’s Assad regime, which is fighting ISIS and other rebels at home, bombed ISIS targets along the Iraq-Syria border last week.
Faily said Tuesday Iraq did not dispute the U.S. commitment to Iraq, but that “the issue is the scale of the support.”
He said Iraq has asked the U.S. “again and again” to provide Apache attack helicopters, but the request had been held up in Congress.
Faily said when Iraq’s foreign minister visited Washington last August he stressed to all levels of government the need for immediate help.
But the appeal was not heeded, he said, “until the [ISIS] situation came up in the last few weeks.”
That had been a lost opportunity, Faily argued, since last August ISIS’s camps were in the desert and airstrikes would have been simpler, with less risk of collateral damage.
As for Iran’s proposal to send help, he said, Iraq in the past had “always tried to resist” such offers – but now “the situation on the ground may push us to acquire more support from our neighbor.”
On the purchase of Russian Sukhois, “our first choice was to buy American-made F-16s but the process of delivering those jets do[es] not meet the immediate threat we face.”
No-one would wish to buy second-hand aircraft “if he can get the best,” Faily said.
But “we don’t have choices.” Given the gravity of the situation Iraq was compelled “to choose whoever is available to support us on the ground.”
Iraq, U.S. ‘forever tied together’
Faily stressed that Iraq’s partnership with the U.S. was irreplaceable.
“Rest assured that we will never choose to replace the partnership we have with the United States with any other country,” he said. “Our countries are forever tied together because of the lives we lost and the treasure we spent in both countries for the last decade, in our common fight against terrorism.”
He warned that ISIS posed a threat not just to Iraq.
It the group was allowed to consolidate its gains, “it will have a safe haven in the heart of the Middle East” from where it will be able to train fighters and launch further attacks against Iraq, its neighbors, “and potentially beyond.”
Asked to respond to Faily’s comments, State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said “we have said any country who is willing to assist the Iraqis in this fight in a nonsectarian, inclusive way towards an inclusive process, that’s what all the countries need to do.”
That did not include the Assad regime, however.
“When it comes to Syria, we’ve been very clear that Iraq’s security problem cannot be solved by the Assad regime, who, in large part, is responsible for the security situation that spilled over into Iraq and has led us to where we are today,” she said.
With regard to Iran’s offer of weaponry, Harf said that any assistance should go to the Iraqi army, not to militias or other groups, and should be in support of an inclusive government.
“I haven’t seen that announcement by the Iranians, but including the Iranians, if they would like to support in that way towards those ends, anybody should feel free to.”
At the Pentagon, spokesman Rear Admiral John Kirby said Tuesday it was not accurate to say the F-16s had been held up.
“They were never expected to be in Iraq until the fall, so there’s been no delay,” he told a briefing. “There’s been no halt to the process. The process is still moving forward.”
Kirby cautioned however, that delivery could potentially be delayed because of the situation on the ground.