The United States won assurances from Iraq that it would not seek Russian air strikes against Islamic State targets after conveying serious concerns about the proposal, America's top general said October 20.
U.S. Marine General Joseph Dunford, on his first trip to Iraq since becoming chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff on October 1, said he warned Baghdad that a Russian air role might prompt the United States to end its air campaign, which has been bombing IS targets in Iraq and Syria for more than a year.
Russia launched a second air war against IS this summer in a bid to help the Syrian government oust the militant group from much of its territory, although Western groups say most of the Russian strikes have hit rebels groups other than IS so far.
Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, under pressure to show progress in his war against IS, said on October 1 that he would welcome Russian air strikes in his country.
Dunford said there was "angst" in Washington when Abadi appeared to invite Russia to intervene in Iraq.
The United States, he said, "can't have a relationship right now with Russia in the context of Iraq."
Dunford said that after he conveyed U.S. objections to such an arrangement, Abadi and Iraqi Defense Minister Khaled al-Obeidi both assured him "there is no request right now for the Russians to support them, there's no consideration for the Russians to support them."
"I said it would make it very difficult for us to be able to provide the kind of support that you need if the Russians were here conducting operations as well," Dunford told reporters traveling with him in Iraq.
"We can't conduct operations if the Russians were operating in Iraq right now."
Dunford also played down a much-touted Baghdad-based intelligence-sharing cell between Russia, Iran, Syria, and Iraq, which has stoked questions about Moscow's intentions in Iraq.
A senior Iraqi parliamentary figure said last week that Baghdad had already begun bombing IS targets with the help of the Baghdad intelligence center.
But Obeidi, Dunford said, told him during closed-door talks in Baghdad that the intelligence cell so far "hasn't stood up."
"He said they have not done anything right now," Dunford said.
With reporting by Reuters and AP