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Iraq asks for more U.S. aid, airstrikes

David Zucchino McClatchy-Tribune

BAGHDAD – Senior Iraqi officials and commanders are calling for intensified U.S. airstrikes and more military aid, arguing that the 10-week-old American-led effort has been too modest to drive Islamic State fighters out of key towns and districts.

The Iraqi complaints signal growing tension between Baghdad and Washington over the pace of the U.S. military operation, which has concentrated airstrikes in neighboring Syria even as car bombs and suicide attacks, many in Baghdad, have killed more than 200 Iraqis in the last week alone.

“We need more from the United States,” Brig. Gen. Abdul Ameer Kamil, commander of Iraqi military operations in Baghdad, said in an interview at the Defense Ministry in the fortified Green Zone, where he meets regularly with U.S. advisers at a joint operations center.

“We need more airstrikes, more training, new weapons – infantry weapons, artillery, tanks,” he said. At least two mortar shells landed in the Green Zone on Tuesday.

But senior U.S. officials pushed back against the Iraqi criticism, arguing that an array of constraints – heavy rain, concern about potential civilian casualties, restrictions imposed by President Barack Obama and limitations of the Iraqi army – are behind the tempo of the U.S. campaign.

Iraqi army units may not be ready to launch major operations to retake captured cities and territory for several months, even with U.S. advisers and equipment now flowing in, U.S. and Iraqi officials say.

Tens of thousands of Iraqi troops fled before an Islamic State onslaught in the spring and summer, abandoning tanks, armored vehicles, weapons and ammunition that the militants quickly seized. Hundreds of Iraqi soldiers also were captured and executed, according to videos that Islamic State has posted online.

U.S. and coalition forces have launched 601 airstrikes so far against Islamic State fighters and vehicles in Iraq and northern Syria, where the extremist group is based.

More than half the total, 327 attacks, have hit targets in Iraq since the campaign began Aug. 8, according to Pentagon figures. U.S. airstrikes in Syria started Sept. 23.

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