Iraq's premier says more support needed to 'finish' IS
BAGHDAD (AP) Iraq's prime minister said Monday his country needs greater support from the international coalition so it can "finish" the Islamic State group.
Haider al-Abadi said the "marked increase" in airstrikes, weapons deliveries and training has helped roll back the extremist group, but that more is required to eliminate the group once and for all.
"We want to see more," al-Abadi told journalists as he boarded a flight to Washington where he will meet with President Barack Obama as part of his first official visit to the U.S. as prime minister.
"We can finish Daesh...and we can stop their advance in other countries," he added, using the group's Arabic acronym. "We are the only country with armed forces on the ground fighting Daesh. We need all the support of the world."
The US and its coalition allies have carried out nearly 2,000 strikes in Iraq since its campaign began in August as well as nearly 1,400 in neighboring Syria. American officials say the campaign has been somewhat successful, though it is likely to stretch on for years.
In November, Obama authorized the deployment of up to 1,500 more American troops to bolster Iraqi forces, which could more than double the total number of U.S. forces to 3,100. The Pentagon has made a spending request to Congress of $1.6 billion, focusing on training and arming Iraqi and Kurdish forces. According to a Pentagon document prepared in November, the U.S. is looking to provide an estimated $89.3 million worth of weapons and other equipment to each of the nine Iraqi army brigades.
Earlier this month, Iraqi forces and allied Shiite militias, backed by U.S. airstrikes, were able to recapture the city of Tikrit from the Sunni militants in what was the government's first major victory in Iraq's Sunni heartland.
In an interview with The Associated Press in January, al-Abadi said that Iraq was battling the Islamic State militants "almost on our own," adding that "there is a lot being said and spoken, but very little on the ground." His tone ahead of his visit to Washington Monday was noticeably more positive, describing international support as making "good progress."
Iraqi officials believe the Islamic State group is coming under increasing pressure and does not have the same strength, funds or resources as last June when the militants launched their lighting offensive across northern Iraq and captured the city of Mosul. Over the weekend, Iraqi forces, backed by coalition airstrikes, repelled an IS attack on Iraq's largest refinery in the town of Beiji.
"Daesh (has) an urgent necessity for oil for its use and also for money," said Iraq's Oil Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi, who was part of the delegation traveling to Washington with al-Abadi.
Al-Abadi also said Iraq's relationship with neighboring Iran is "very balanced" and that those at odds with Iran should not "throw their problems on us."
Both the United States and Iran are helping Iraq battle the Islamic State group, but insist they are not coordinating their actions on the battlefield. Iranian generals and advisers have played an unusually public role in recent battles, particularly in Tikrit, collaborating with senior Iraqi military officials on the front lines.
Several countries in the region have accused Iran of meddling in the affairs of Arab nations most recently in Yemen, where Shiite rebels backed by Iran have taken over the government, prompting a coalition of Sunni Arab nations to launch an ongoing airstrike campaign.