A top leader of Iraq’s Popular Mobilisation paramilitary organisation said Monday that Baghdad had turned to Russia because the US-led coalition was not serious about fighting the Islamic State group.
A spokesman for the US-led coalition retorted that it had spent $2.3 billion to train and equip Iraqi forces over the past year.
“To this day, we have not seen a really serious effort to fight Daesh,” Hadi al-Ameri said in the holy city of Najaf, using an Arab acronym for the jihadist organisation.
“There are some who try to contain Daesh but not really eliminate them and prevent those fighters from returning to Europe, which is where they came from,” he said.
Ameri is a key MP in the Badr movement, a Tehran-backed Shiite party which also has a powerful military wing. He was speaking at a conference organised by Badr’s Al-Ghadeer television channel.
“This lack of seriousness of the international coalition made us change tack. Russia is moving in a very serious way against Daesh,” he said.
Russian warplanes began air strikes in Syria last week.
Moscow says it has been targeting IS, but Washington and its allies say Russia does not distinguish between IS and other groups and accuses the Kremlin of being focused on protecting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his regime.
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 conducted 7,276 strikes on Iraq and Syria since August 2014, US military spokesman Colonel Steve Warren said.
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.
But Warren said the coalition had over the past year allocated more than $2.3 billion — $1.6 billion of which was provided by the United States — to its “train and equip” programme which saw thousands of military advisers deployed to Iraq.
“The train and equip programme has trained more than 15,000 Iraqi security forces and has provided thousands of tonnes of equipment,” he told AFP.
He said the equipment included 2,000 AT-4 anti-tank missiles, 2,000 Hellfire air-to-ground missiles, 300 Mine-resistant ambush protected (MRAP) vehicles and more than 10,000 M16 assault rifles.