Islamic State Posing Threat to Baghdad, Says Dempsey

U.S. had to call in Apache helicopters to prevent militants from overrunning Iraqi forces near airport, says chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

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Members of Iraqi security forces and Shiite fighters firing a mortar during clashes with militants of the Islamic State, in Diyala province north of Baghdad October 5, 2014.Credit: Reuters

The Islamic State is close enough to Baghdad to threaten the Iraqi capital's sense of security, according to the U.S. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

“I have no doubt there will be days when they use indirect fire into Baghdad,” said Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, President Barak Obama's top military adviser, said in an interview on ABC's "This Week." While he doubted the Islamist militants would make a direct attack on Baghdad, he did say he expected fighters from the Islamic State, also known as ISIS and ISIL, to infiltrate areas near the capital.

According to the New York Times, the Islamic State has already carried out suicide bombing attacks in Baghdad.

The adviser also said that fighting the Islamic State would remain a "very challenging task" until the Sunni population of Iraq becomes convinced the government represents its interests.

“The government of Iraq, which is moving but has not yet achieved a narrative that would cause the 20 million Sunnis who live between Damascus and Baghdad to believe that their future is with the government of Iraq, in the case of Iraqis, and certainly the Syrian regime is not reaching out to the Sunni population in Syria,” Dempsey told ABC News’ Martha Raddatz for “This Week.”

“Until those facts change, this is going to be a very challenging task. In other words, until ISIL doesn’t have, you know, freedom of movement in and among the populations of Al Anbar Province and Nineveh Province, and in Eastern Syria, this is going to be a challenge,” Dempsey said.

General Dempsey acknowledged the challenge on the ground and said during "This Week" that the U.S. had to bring in Apache helicopters to bail out Iraqi forces when Islamic State fighters were within 20 to 25 kilometers of Baghdad's strategically important airport.

“Had they overrun the Iraqi unit, it was a straight shot to the airport. So we’re not going to allow that to happen," he said. "We need that airport.”

Dempsey said Islamic State fighters are adept at concealing themselves from air attacks, blending in with the local population.

“The enemy adapts and they will be harder to target,” said Dempsey. “They know how to maneuver and how to use populations and concealment. So when we get a target, we’ll take it.”

The Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman also told ABC's "This Week" that there could be circumstances in the future when a no-fly zone over Syria could be part of the military campaign.

Dempsey said there may come a time when he might recommend that American advisers accompany Iraqi troops against Islamic State targets. Dempsey thinks Mosul, in northern Iraq, could be the "decisive" battle in the ground campaign at some point.