Iraqi minister tells General Dempsey he is “comfortable receiving aid from Iran”

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff U.S. Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, center, conducts a press conference in Kabul, Afghanistan, July 22, 2013. (DoD photo by D. Myles Cullen/Released)

BAGHDAD (AP) — The Iraqi defense minister said Monday that his government is comfortable asking for and receiving help from Iran, a major U.S. adversary, in its fight against Islamic State militants.

“We are in a state of war,” Defense Minister Khalid al-Obeidi said, which requires Iraq to seek foreign assistance.

He spoke at a news conference with the top U.S. general, Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who was on a brief visit to Baghdad. Iraq has been relying on military assistance from both the U.S. and Iran in its struggle against Islamic State extremists who have captured control of about one-third of Iraq and Syria.

The U.S. worries that Iran is taking too big a role in Iraqi affairs, but al-Obeidi dismissed that notion.

“I think the situation is balanced,” the defense minister said, speaking through an interpreter. “The situation is acceptable to us.” He said Iran has played “a very positive role” in Iraq in helping fight IS.

Dempsey was asked at the news conference if the U.S. would use air power to protect Iraqi antiquities from destruction by Islamic State.

“We will consider it, but it will have to fit into all the other things we are being asked to do on behalf of Iraq,” he said.

Dempsey, who also met with Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi and senior U.S. officials during his brief visit, said the U.S.-led coalition is being careful in its use of air power in order to avoid civilian casualties. He said the U.S. does not want to create additional suffering as it targets Islamic State militants in Iraq.

Before arriving in the Iraqi capital, Dempsey said that he wanted to press the Shiite-dominated government to deliver on its promise to reconcile with the Sunni minority and to explain how it intends to balance its relations with Iran.

By ROBERT BURNS, AP National Security Writer

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