Obama offering ground forces, Iraq refuses

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SYDNEY: Baghdad has not requested foreign ground forces to battle the Islamic State group, Iraqi Foreign Minister Ibrahim al-Jafaari said on Thursday after Barack Obama called for military operations that stop short of a full-scale invasion.

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The US president said on Wednesday he would not flinch from sending US special forces to kill Islamic State group leaders, as he urged Congress for authority to take the fight to the extremists beyond their current footholds in Syria and Iraq if necessary.

In Sydney, the Iraqi minister said ground forces were not part of his government’s plan.

“We have never asked for a ground forces contribution,” he said through an interpreter after meetings with Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop.

“We have established a set of guidelines,” for the international coalition, al-Jafaari told a press conference.

This was to provide air support for Iraqi forces, training and intelligence, he stressed.

“The message that Iraq has submitted to the [United Nations] security council never included a request for ground forces to enter Iraqi territory to conduct such operations,” al-Jafaari said.

However he added: “We are at the beginning of a major war and the situation could be changing.”

The minister noted that Iraqi armed forces were advancing against the Islamic State group and had no shortage of troops.

“There is no doubt that the Iraqi armed forces need aerial support, in addition to intelligence information,” he said. “No country has regular armies or ground troops present in Iraq except for providing training and counseling,” he added.

Since August 2014, the US military — along with allies including Australia — has been conducting a campaign of air strikes against the jihadist in Iraq and Syria.

With the group losing territory and large numbers of fighters, Obama has now promised to back up the strikes with targeted covert ground-based attacks if necessary.

Bishop said Australia’s role in Iraq was restricted to aerial support, training, advice and intelligence.

“We have not sought to expand our role to include combat troops,” she said.

Australia was part of the coalition the invaded and occupied Iraq to oust Saddam Hussein from 2003.

Obama’s move signals a ramping up of pressure on the Islamic State group as Baghdad prepares for a major ground offensive, expected within months. It would also provide a firmer legal basis to prosecute a months-old military campaign.

Tantamount to a declaration of war, Obama on Wednesday asked US lawmakers for formal authority to take the fight to the IS group, beyond their current footholds in Syria and Iraq if necessary.

“Our coalition is on the offensive,” Obama said, adding Islamic State is “on the defensive” and is “going to lose.”

“If we had actionable intelligence about a gathering of ISIL [Islamic State] leaders, and our partners didn’t have the capacity to get them, I would be prepared to order our special forces to take action,” Obama said.

AFP

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