Baghdad information-sharing centre up and running
BAGHDAD - Iraqi officers answer telephones at a Baghdad information centre, jot down details regarding Islamic State (ISIS) movements and Russian military analysts relay instructions to Syrians, Iranians and Iraqis on what needs to be done.
The exchange of reconnaissance data is taking place at an information centre established in September by Russia, Syria, Iraq and Iran in Baghdad to coordinate joint military action against ISIS, which controls land in Iraq and Syria.
The four countries are represented by officers of the national armed forces, whose primary task is to collect and analyse data related to ISIS operations in the region.
On September 30th, Russia began air strikes on ISIS positions in Syria at the request of Syrian President Bashar Assad. Since the beginning of the campaign, Russian forces have carried out nearly 1,000 sorties in Syria, killing several hundred militants and destroying dozens of command centres and depots used by the terrorists, according to an Iraqi official at the Baghdad information centre.
The Russian moves, which followed its military build-up in Syria, underlined Moscow’s expanding influence in the Middle East. A larger Russian role in Iraq could sideline Washington, which has been struggling against a significant influence by Iranian-allied Shia militias in Iraq. Months of air strikes by the US-led coalition targeting ISIS strongholds in Iraq and Syria produced scant progress.
Shahwan Abdullah, the secretary of the Iraqi parliament’s defence committee, said the Baghdad “coordination centre is in business”.
“What we have now is joint coordination and information exchange between the founding countries,” Abdullah said.
He said only the department for collecting intelligence data related to ISIS, used for selecting targets for air strikes, is in operation.
“If there is information on ISIS’s movements in Iraq, then the Iraqi aviation carries out air strikes,” he said. “If the information is on Syria, then the Russian aviation does it.”
An Iraqi military official described the centre at Baghdad’s Al- Muthana military base at Baghdad airport as like a “swarm cell”.
“Telephones never stop ringing. Iraqi military officials take note of the incoming information and translate it on the spot to our partners, the Russians, who distribute it to the rest — the Syrians and Iranians,” the official said.
He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not allowed to make statements to the media.
Iraqi Army Captain Mohammed al-Rawi, speaking from a base in Anbar province, a vast desert region of western Iraq where ISIS has a number of major strongholds, said Iraqi military personnel are in “constant touch with the Baghdad information centre”.
“The centre is specifically interested in information on battle grounds in Anbar, the whereabouts of ISIS and how big is its fighting force on the ground in any specific area in the province,” Rawi said.
“They tell us they’re studying the various options in preparation for air strikes or for guidance to ground troops in the area.”
“It’s a very well-coordinated operation and we’re glad to be in touch with a command centre that has plans and can guide us to victory.”
Iraqi analyst Atwan Sayed said that, although Russia is the strongest militarily in the four-nation coalition, “It’s highly unlikely that it would act on its own without informing the remaining members of its plans.”
“Russia is clearly in a study mode. It’s examining the terrain, information and the evaluation of the different options,” Sayed said.
“It’s only a matter of days till we hear of Russian sorties over Iraq.”
Hakem al-Zameli, who heads parliament’s defence committee, said “Iraq will ask Russia soon to start air strikes against Daesh positions in the country”. Daesh is the Arabic acronym for ISIS.
He said there was no time set for the Iraqi request “but it should come very soon”. He said parliament’s defence committee voted unanimously to allow the Russia sorties, setting the stage for a full vote in parliament, subsequently allowing the Baghdad government to make the request to the Russians.
An Iraqi government official, insisting on anonymity, said technical points were being reviewed with Russia, including “the designation of a specific airbase for Russian jet fighters and for Iraq to bear part of the cost of the sorties on Daesh.
“Russia is also insisting on immunity against any legal liability for its air force and military in the event that such sorties, or plans, lead to casualties among Iraqi civilians,” the official added. He said Baghdad was likely to accept.