Iraqi leaders will begin a process Wednesday to select a commander who can serve as a central figure to better organize the various forces fighting Islamic State militants.
U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman General Joseph Dunford said Tuesday during a visit to Iraq that the U.S.-led coalition needs one person who can speak with authority on the ground campaign in order to provide better support.
While the coalition has been carrying out airstrikes, a collection of fighters from Iraq's army, Shi'ite militias, Sunni tribesman and Kurdish forces have all been battling the militants in various parts of Iraq with different levels of success.
Overall, the Islamic State group has held onto much of the territory it seized more than a year ago.
Dunford said he would not describe the situation in Iraq as a stalemate and would not be discussing specific timelines for the campaign.
One recent gain was in the key oil refinery town of Beiji, north of Baghdad, where U.S. and Iraqi military officials said Iraqi forces retook "full control" after more than a year of fighting.
U.S. military spokesman Major Mike Filanowski, speaking Tuesday in Baghdad, said 15,000 Iraqi troops and paramilitaries held Beiji and were driving pockets of enemy fighters from the area.
Footage aired on Iraqi television showed Iraqi troops waving flags from rooftops in the town, which was overrun by Islamic State fighters in June 2014.
Dunford also said that Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi and Defense Minister Khaled al-Obeidi both had told him they were not seeking Russian military help against the Islamic State.
'Difficult for us'
Abadi said earlier this month that he would welcome Russian airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Iraq.
“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 after his talks.
Iraq’s Shi’ite-dominated ruling coalition and Shi’ite militias have urged Abadi to ask Russia to strike Islamic State targets in Iraq, Reuters reported Wednesday.
The news agency quoted two members of Iraq’s parliament as saying the Iraqi prime minister is under “tremendous pressure” from the ruling National Alliance to request Russian airstrikes.
In addition to talks with Iraqi government leaders, Dunford also met with the head of Iraq's Kurdistan region, President Massoud Barzani, as part of his trip to assess the fight against Islamic State militants.
Dunford told Barzani the United States and the Kurds "have a common enemy."