Iraqi Kurdish leader urges Russia, U.S. to coordinate in anti-IS fight

ERBIL, Iraq (Reuters) - The president of Iraq's Kurdistan region said on Saturday that "better results" could be achieved in the war against Islamic State militants if Russia and the international coalition coordinated their efforts. In a statement, Massoud Barzani also said he welcomed assistance from any country, including Russia, for his autonomous region's peshmerga forces, which are dug in along a frontline with the militants in northern Iraq. Russian warplanes began striking in neighboring Syria earlier this week. But the U.S.-led coalition, which has been bombing there and in Iraq since last year, accused Moscow of targeting groups other than Islamic State. The Kurds have emerged as a key ally for the coalition of more than 60 nations, driving the insurgents back in northern Iraq with the help of air strikes and advisers. "If there is coordination and cooperation between the international coalition and Russia against Daesh, that will achieve better results," Barzani said in the statement, using an Arabic name for Islamic State, also known as ISIS and ISIL. "The Kurdistan region... welcomes Russia if it supports the peshmerga in the fight against Daesh". The Iraqi government said earlier this week it would welcome Russian air strikes against Islamic State on its own soil, adding that it was already cooperating on intelligence and security in Baghdad with Russia, Iran and Syria to counter Islamic State. Iraqi officials say the agreement to share intelligence with Russia did not mean the United States would lose influence with the Baghdad government. But diplomats and officials said Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi may use the growing Russian presence as leverage against the Americans as he seeks more weapons from Washington. (Reporting by Isabel Coles; Editing by Andrew Heavens)