The Iraqi government would welcome Russian airstrikes against Islamic State targets inside Iraq, although it has not formally asked the Russians for help, Air Force Times has learned.
Russia recently began conducting airstrikes in Syria, but the U.S. and Russia disagree over whether the air attacks have been against the Islamic State or rebel groups allied with the U.S.
The Iraqis feel that the U.S.-led campaign against the Islamic State has become too focused on Syria and has not made enough progress on the ground in Iraq, a senior Iraqi diplomat, who asked to speak on condition of anonymity, told Air Force Times on Monday.
The official accused the coalition fores of moving too slowly, thereby missing opportunities to roll back the Islamic State in Iraqi cities. Since more than 2,000 Russians are among the Islamic State’s ranks and Russia has experience fighting Islamic militants in Chechnya, it makes sense to include Russia in anti-Islamic State efforts, he said.
However, Iraq does not want the Russians to send combat troops to fight the Islamic State on the ground, the diplomat said.
The diplomat also sought to allay fears about Iraq’s agreement to share intelligence with Russia and Syria, saying the Iraqi government has enough firewalls in its system to prevent harm to the U.S. and other coalition partners. The Iraqis will also coordinate closely with the U.S. on how to include Russia in the intelligence sharing operation, he said.
What the Iraqis need from the U.S. is more M1A1 Abrams tanks to help retake Anbar province from the Islamic State, according to the diplomat. The tanks would give the Iraqi military the offensive capability it needs right now, he said.
Both the State Department and Congress have approved the sale of 175 Abrams tanks to Iraq. Before the Islamic State captured Mosul and much of northern Iraq last June, the Iraqi army had about 140 Abrams tanks.
An unknown number of those tanks were destroyed, damaged beyond repair, lost or captured. In January, a video showed a Kata’ib Hezbollah convoy in Iraq that included an M1A1 Abrams on a truck.
As of Sept. 24, the U.S.-led coalition has destroyed 121 tanks in Iraq and Syria, according to U.S. Central Command’s latest list of targets struck. The list does not describe what kinds of tanks were destroyed. The Islamic State has captured many of the Syrian army’s tanks.