Iraq’s new prime minister ruled out stationing U.S. ground troops in his country, chiding the international community Wednesday for inaction in Syria and lamenting the “puzzling” exclusion of neighboring Iran from the coalition being assembled to fight the Islamic State group.
Haider al-Abadi has been embraced by the West as a more inclusive leader who might heal the internal rifts that have dismembered Iraq. But his forthrightness in an interview with The Associated Press — his first with international media — suggested a man capable of parting ways on vision and holding his ground.
Al-Abadi praised the U.S. aerial campaign targeting the terrorists who have overrun much of northern and western Iraq and carved out a proto-state spanning the Syria-Iraq border, saying it has helped efforts to roll back the Sunni extremists.
But he stressed that he sees no need for the U.S. or other nations to send troops into Iraq to help fight the Islamic State.
“Not only is it not necessary,” he said, “We don’t want them. We won’t allow them. Full stop.”
Instead, al-Abadi urged the international community to expand its campaign against the extremists in neighboring Syria, noting that terrorists coming under pressure in Iraq are retreating back into Syria.
The comments provided a sharp rebuttal to remarks a day earlier by the chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Martin Dempsey, who told the Senate Armed Services Committee that American ground troops may be needed to battle Islamic State forces in the Middle East if President Obama’s current strategy fails.
However, on Wednesday, Obama firmly rejected any suggestion that U.S. ground troops would be sent into combat against the extremists. “As your commander-in-chief, I will not commit you and the rest of our armed forces to fighting another ground war in Iraq,” Obama told troops at MacDill Air Force Base in Florida.
“American forces do not and will not have a combat mission,” he said.
Al-Abadi, a veteran Shiite lawmaker who spent 20 years in exile in Britain prior to the 2003 U.S.-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein, faces the enormous task of trying to hold Iraq together amid the growing security and political challenges.
The Iraqi premier said that the Iraqi military will choose and approve targets, and that the United States will not take action without consulting with Baghdad first.
“The only contribution the American forces or the international coalition are going to help us with is from the sky,” al-Abadi said. “We are not giving any blank check to the international coalition to hit any target in Iraq.”