Iraq's prime minister has rejected the need for foreign troops to fight "Islamic State" militants. The remarks follow the Pentagon chief's announcement of special forces to battle militants inside Iraq.
Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said Tuesday that Iraq welcomes US military equipment, training and air support in the fight against the self-styled "Islamic State." But he drew the line at US troops operating inside the country without specific authorization from Baghdad.
"We do not need foreign ground combat forces on Iraqi land," Abadi said in a statement.
The Iraqi leader's words follow indications from Washington that the US plans to expand anti-IS military operations on the ground in both Iraq and Syria.
IS overran large areas north and west of Baghdad last year, aided by the collapse of significant units of the Iraqi army, and also holds territory in Syria.
US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter had announced a special expeditionary force to Iraq - and hinted more forces could be sent to Syria - after more than a year of US-led coalition airstrikes in both countries.
"The international community - including our allies and partners - has to step up before another attack like Paris," Carter said, with Britain's House of Commons and Germany's Bundestag set to vote this week on assisting France in striking suspected "Islamic State" targets in the region.
Carter wouldn't say exactly how many additional special forces troops would go to Iraq, but said it would be a "larger number" than the 50 currently in Syria. The United States already has about 3,500 troops in Iraq, but their mission is to "train and advise" local forces rather than to act independently in combat missions.
Bad blood over US occupation
Iraq was under US military occupation for more than a decade following the 2003 invasion and subsequent Iraqi civil war. As a result, Washington's intentions are widely distrusted by many ordinary Iraqis as well as the militias which receive support from Washington's rival Iran.
That would complicate deployment of US troops on the ground as several Shiite militias - which back the current Baghdad government in its fight against IS - have vowed to resist any American troop presence.
"We will chase and fight any American force deployed in Iraq," Jafaar Hussaini, a spokesman for one of the Shiite armed groups, Kata'ib Hezbollah, told the Reuters news agency. "Any such American force will become a primary target for our group. We fought them before, and we are ready to resume fighting."
"All Iraqis look to (the Americans) as occupiers who are not trustworthy," Muen al-Kadhimi, a senior aide to the militia leader of the Iran-backed Badr Organization, told Reuters.
US senators from the Republican Party have called on expanding US troop deployments in Iraq. Russia's larger military role in neighboring Syria, and its participation in a security coordination cell in Baghdad that includes Iran and Syria, have Washington hawks worried that the US is losing ground to its rivals.
jar/gsw (AFP, Reuters)