Iraq Army Says Coalition Strikes on Tikrit Needed

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Air strikes by the U.S.-led coalition would help win the battle to retake the Iraqi city of Tikrit from the Islamic State group, one of the operation's commanders said Sunday.

Staff Lieutenant General Abdulwahab al-Saadi said he had asked the defense ministry to request coalition involvement but "no air support was provided."

Asked if it would be better if air strikes by coalition aircraft did take place, Saadi said: "Of course... the Americans have advanced equipment, they have AWACS (surveillance) aircraft.

"They are able to locate the targets exactly" and accurately strike them, he told AFP in an interview at Tikrit University, on the northern edge of the city.

Saadi complained that support from the Iraqi air force had been "limited" and not always sufficiently accurate.

He said he thought the reason there had been no coalition strikes to support the two-week-old Tikrit operation was political and not military.

Shiite Iran has been Baghdad's main foreign partner in the operation and Tehran's top commander in charge of external operations, Qassem Soleimani, has been omnipresent on the front lines.

Officials in Washington have expressed unease at the level of Iranian involvement in Tikrit, an overwhelmingly Sunni city which was executed dictator Saddam Hussein's hometown.

Coalition air strikes have supported several other operations to reclaim jihadist-held territory in Iraq in recent months, including some in which Iran-backed Shiite militias were involved.

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