Shiite Muslim volunteers join the Iraqi Army to fight against jihadist militants of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant. Iraq's ambassador to the US has urged the US to begin airstrikes against ISIL. (Ahmad Al-Rubaye / AFP)
WASHINGTON — The Iraqi ambassador to the United States explicitly called for ramped up American military involvement in his country on Monday, asking the United States to launch air strikes against positions being held by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), the Sunni extremist group that has gained control over swaths of northern and western Iraq.
H.E. Lukman Faily told an audience at an Atlantic Council event in Washington that for the US and Iraq “to conduct counterterrorism operations in urban areas occupied by ISIL, we need precision US air attacks,” and that “the US should offer air support targeting terrorist camps and supply convoys in remote areas.”
American air strikes would also “protect Iraq’s borders against further terrorist influx” the ambassador said, since key elements of ISIL have flowed across the porous Iraq/Syria border in the past several months, giving the group freedom of movement across the Sunni-dominated western Iraq and eastern Syria.
Last week, almost 70 House Democrats sent a letter to President Barack Obama demanding congressional approval before ordering any offensive American military operations in Iraq, telling the president that “as you consider options for US intervention, we write to urge respect for the constitutional requirements for using force abroad.” The Democrats were joined by nine Republicans on the letter.
The Iraqi ambassador made his plea at a time when his country is still waiting for the first shipment of American Apache attack helicopters and F-16 fighter planes, long promised by Washington but delayed by the massive bureaucracy that controls such foreign military sales.
The first two of an eventual 36 F-16s are slated to be delivered to Iraq this fall, but Iraqi pilots won’t be able to actually fly them for quite some time afterward since they have yet to be fully trained.
The United States has also signed a deal to sell 24 Apache attack helicopters to Baghdad, though there is no schedule for their shipment.
Lukman Faily lamented the delays in sending the aircraft, calling it “a chapter we could have prevented. It was stuck in Congress, and it was stuck in the White House, and that delay has had an adverse impact on us. Even if we pay the bills now the pilots are not in place.”
He added that the slow pace with which Washington is getting the airframes to Baghdad “also has created questions for us back home” about Washington’s commitment to Iraq.
In response to an urgent request from the Iraqi government, Russia and Iran have recently shipped several Russian Su-25 fighter jets to Iraq.
Despite those shipments, Lukman Faily insisted on Monday that Iran “has offered us all the help…and we said no.”
The ambassador was not asked, and did not bring up, reports that at least 120 advisers from Iran’s Revolutionary Guard led by Gen. Qasem Soleimani are helping direct Iraqi Shiite militiamen in their fight against ISIL. ■