Iraq turns to Russia in fight against Islamic State
By Loveday Morris
September 27, 2015
BAGHDAD -- Iraq plans to set up a joint intelligence-sharing hub with Syria, Iran and Russia to fight the Islamic State, officials said, a move that could further sideline the United States in the battle against the extremist group.
The center in Baghdad will open "in weeks, maybe less," Nasir Nouri Mohammed, a spokesman for the Iraqi Defense Ministry, said Sunday after the announcement of a security and intelligence pact linking the four countries.
The deal is the latest indication of expanding Russian influence in the region  as Moscow embarks on a major buildup of troops and military assets along the Syrian coast. A larger role in Iraq could come at the expense of U.S. clout, with Washington struggling to compete with Iran for influence on the battlefield.
Efforts to push back militants in Iraq have virtually stalled, with U.S.-backed troops around Ramadi, the capital of Anbar province, apparently unable to make any significant progress in retaking the city from the Islamic State. Despite a $1.3 billion train-and-equip program for Iraqi forces, Iraqi officials complain that assistance has been slow compared with support from Iran and Russia.
"The decision was taken to share intelligence because all these four countries are involved in fighting terrorism," Mohammed said. He said it would not change Iraq's cooperation with other countries and the U.S.-led coalition to fight the Islamic State.
The leadership of the command center will be rotated every three months among the four countries involved, Mohammed said, adding that it would be limited to sharing intelligence.
However, citing an unnamed military source, the Russian news agency Interfax reported that a committee for "planning operations and controlling armed forces units" fighting Islamic State militants also may be created.
At a meeting with ministers from the U.S.-led coalition in Paris in June, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi complained  that despite pledges of arms and ammunition from Western partners, Baghdad had received "almost none."
Jassem Mohammed al-Bayati, a member of parliament from Iraq's ruling State of Law bloc, welcomed the deal as a "substantial and serious coalition."
"Iraq has had enough of the unserious support and procedures of the international coalition," he said, adding that Russia was playing a "clear role" in Syria defending President Bashar al-Assad against terrorism.
Mustafa Salim contributed to this report.