BAGHDAD —As Moscow deepens its military involvement in the region, Iraq appears to be increasingly looking east for assistance in its fight against Islamic State extremists, with Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi indicating Thursday that he would welcome a Russian bombing campaign.
In an interview with France 24 television, Abadi accused the U.S.-led coalition of a lack of support and questioned the will of Western leaders to defeat the Islamic State. He said Russian strikes were a “possibility” but had not been discussed.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said, however, that there are no plans for Russia to strike Islamic State militants in Iraq.
The U.S.-led coalition has been bombing Islamic State targets in Iraq for more than a year, but Iraqi officials have repeatedly complained that the efforts are insufficient to decisively turn back the militants. The United States has spent more than $25 billion to train and equip Iraq’s military, but Abadi’s comments Thursday were the latest indication that the country is increasingly seeking support from other partners — particularly traditional U.S. rivals Russia and Iran.
“If we get the offer, we’ll consider it,” Abadi said in an interview in New York broadcast Thursday. “In actual fact, I would welcome it.”
Speaking on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly, Lavrov said that Iraq had not requested strikes.
“We are polite people,” he said. “We don’t come if not invited.”
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov also played down speculation, saying the “case in hand” is Syria, according to the Russian news agency Tass.
U.S. officials have said that they welcome assistance in the battle against the Islamic State but that a lack of coordination could complicate their efforts.
“Any uncoordinated actor increases the complexity of operations,” said Col. Steve Warren, a U.S. military spokesman in Baghdad. “I have not yet seen anything militarily to indicate that the Russians are close to striking anything in Iraq,” he said during a teleconference with reporters at the Pentagon.
Russia gave the United States just an hour’s notice before it launched strikes in Syria on Wednesday. A Russian general from a new center for intelligence sharing among Syria, Iran, Iraq and Russia arrived at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, requesting that planes from the U.S.-led coalition stay out of Syrian airspace while Russia bombed targets across the border.
Iraq had announced the establishment of the intelligence-sharing group just days earlier — but Abadi said Thursday that the intelligence sharing had been going on for some time and that Syria had provided Iraq with “very useful” information on the Islamic State.
The activity is likely to raise concerns in Washington that U.S. intelligence shared with the Iraqis could be passed on to adversaries of the United States.
“The Iraqi minister of defense assured us that our information will be appropriately protected,” Warren said.
Asked about Abadi’s comments, Warren said the Islamic State had inflicted widespread suffering in Iraq. “I believe that we have answered the Iraqi call,” he said. “We have brought a tremendous amount of air power to this fight, and I am ready to detail thousands of airstrikes, tens of thousands of tons of bombs.”
Ali Khedery, who was a special assistant to five U.S. ambassadors in Iraq, called the situation “an American national security horror show.”
“Normally, my blood would be boiling at the thought that everything we have fought for for more than a decade has now been flushed away,” he said. “But I am now resigned to this reality and to the brave new world we live in.”
The view that Russia and Iran are stepping in to fill a vacuum is prevalent in Iraq, even among those who do not support the alliance.
“The United States was hesitating, and Russia and Iran have taken advantage of this,” said Hamid al-Mutlaq, a Sunni member of the Iraqi parliament’s defense and security committee. “Right now, Iraq is open for Iranian and Russian intervention.”
However, he sharply criticized Iraq’s new security agreement, saying that cooperating with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is “terrorism itself.”
Andrew Roth in Moscow, Missy Ryan in Washington and Mustafa Salim in Baghdad contributed to this report.