Iraqi ground controllers tried to divert the US Air Force plane of Joint Chiefs Chairman Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford Tuesday in another possible sign of growing friction between Washington and Baghdad.
Dunford's Air Force C-17 was en route to Irbil, the Kurdish capital in northern Iraq, following talks by the new Joint Chiefs Chairman in Israel and Jordan when the plane was ordered to divert to Baghdad.
After a half-hour of back-and-forth, between the aircraft and ground control, Dunford's plane was allowed to land in Irbil, where the general was to hold talks with Massoud Barzani, president of the Kurdish Regional Government.
High-level U.S. officials, including Defense Secretary Ashton Carter, usually go to Baghdad first on their visits to the region as a sign of support for a unified Iraqi government. Pentagon Press Secretary Peter Cook said, "I wouldn't read too much into the itinerary."
At a Pentagon news conference, Cook suggested there may have been a problem with the fight plan filed by Dunford's plane but did not give details. "Whatever issues were involved have been resolved," Cook said.
Reporters traveling with Dunford said the C-17 initially was refused permission to land in Irbil because it was a cargo plane.
The Kurds have long complained that they are being shortchanged by the central Iraqi government on arms shipments from the U.S., which are shipped first to Baghdad for distribution.
The landing incident also came three weeks after Russia began bombing in Syria to support the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Shortly after Moscow began sending planes and troops to Syria, Iraqi President Haider al-Abadi announced an intelligence sharing agreement with Russia and Iran.
Dunford was making his first trip to Iraq since taking over as Joint Chiefs Chairman on Oct. 1 from retiring Army Gen. Martin Dempsey. Earlier, Dunford said U.S. officials had been assured by Abadi that he was not asking for the Russians to bomb in Iraq against ISIS.
Dunford also told reporters traveling with him that he wanted "to get a sense for where we are in training" the Iraqis to fight the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria during his stay in Iraq.
"Clearly, I want to get a sense of where [Army Lt. Gen. Sean] McFarland thinks we need support," Dunford said in reference to the U.S. commander leading the training and equipping effort.
--Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Suisk@military.com.