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Iraqi Shiite militants welcome Russian action against IS; US accused of failing to act decisively

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Picture released by the Rased News Network, a Facebook account affiliated with Islamic State militants
Picture released by the Rased News Network, a Facebook account affiliated with Islamic State militants

BAGHDAD, Oct 5, (Agencies): Iraq’s most powerful Iranian-backed Shiite militias said on Monday they would welcome Russian air strikes on Islamic State in the country and accused the United States of failing to act decisively against the ultra-hardline group. The comments are likely to fuel US concerns over Moscow’s growing influence in the Middle East as Russia bombs Islamic State targets in neighbouring Syria and shares intelligence with Iraq under a new regional security agreement. “We are looking forward to seeing Russian war planes bomb the positions and headquarters of DAESH (Islamic State) in Iraq and all its joint supply routes with Syria,” Muen al-Kadhimi, a senior aide to the leader of the Badr Brigade, told Reuters. “We will strongly welcome such intervention by the Russians to take out DAESH in Iraq.”

The United States has led air strikes against Islamic State in Iraq for more than a year, but Baghdad has repeatedly called for greater engagement and air support for Iraqi forces trying to regain territory against the militant group.

Earlier on Monday, the Shi’ite Asaib Ahl al-Haq force also said it fully supported Russia’s intervention against Islamic State in the Middle East. Spokesman Naim al-Uboudi said Russia’s air strikes in Syria had already produced results. “We know that the United States, during the past year and a half, was not serious about putting an end to DAESH … they attempt to manage the crisis rather than put an end to it.”

Support for Russian action against Islamic State in Iraq from the country’s Shiite militias is seen as critical before any airstrikes are possible. Firmly backed by Tehran, the militias are far more influential than the Iraqi army or security forces, who have proven ineffective against Islamic State, which controls about one third of Iraq and large swathes of neighbouring Syria.

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has also said Baghdad would welcome Russian air strikes against Islamic State in his country on Iraqi soil. Last month, Iraq said its military officials were engaged in intelligence and security cooperation in Baghdad with Russia, Iran and Syria to counter the threat from Islamic State.

Iraq announced last week it had agreed to set up a cell in Baghdad aimed at increasing intelligence cooperation with Russia, Syria and Iran in the fight against IS. The government in Baghdad has since said it might consider allowing Russia to bomb IS targets in Iraq as well. Ameri said IS’s ability to recruit internationally was unprecedented in the history of terrorism. “They are currently recruiting fighters from 108 countries in the world and all of them are going through Turkey, with the coalition’s knowledge,” he said. “We told America” ‘if you are serious about fighting DAESH, you have to stop those arrivals, which are wreaking carnage and destruction on Syria and Iraq’,” he said. The US-led coalition — which also includes France and Britain — has carried out more than 7,000 strikes on Iraq and Syria since August 2014.

Those have helped Iraqi forces roll back some of the territorial gains IS made last year but the jihadist group has proved resilient and the security forces slow to reform. Ameri and other Iraqi politicians have criticised the West’s commitment as conditional and arms deliveries as too slow. Iraq has not officially asked Russia to conduct air strikes on its territory to fight Islamic State, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov was quoted as saying on Monday by Russian news agencies. He added that Russia was ready to establish contacts with opposition grouping the Free Syrian Army.

The US-led coalition targeted Islamic State with 13 airstrikes in Iraq and eight in Syria on Sunday, the Combined Joint Task Force leading the operation said in a statement released on Monday. In Syria, the strikes hit eight units centered near three cities – Al Hasaka, Al Hawl and Palmyra – and hit several Islamic State tactical units, according to the statement. The single strike near Palmyra “produced inconclusive results,” it said. In Iraq, the 13 strikes hit near 10 cities, including Mosul, Ramadi and Falluja, and struck several tactical units, fighting positions and other targets.

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