New Baghdad security hub brings in Russia

Friday 02/10/2015
Whole new ball game in Middle East region

BAGHDAD - A planned joint intel­ligence-sharing hub headed by Russia and including Iraq, Syria and regional powerhouse Iran points to an emerging regional alliance that could overshadow the United States’ longstanding domi­nance of the Mideast and rehabili­tate its former Cold War foe on the world scene.

The centre being set up in Bagh­dad and tasked with sharing data between military officials of the four countries on the Islamic State (ISIS) underlines the failure of the US-led coalition to rid Iraq and Syr­ia of the jihadist group, which con­trols large parts of both countries.

The envisaged cooperation brings the former rivals closer to each other. Iraq was ruled by the Ba’ath Party, a branch that was traditionally at odds with Syria’s regime until Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein was ousted in the 2003 US-led war.

Since Saddam’s 2003 downfall, Syria and Iran moved to build ties with Iraq, which has a majority Shia population, the largest out­side Iran. Syria, which is tradition­ally backed by Iran, is ruled by the Alawites, a branch of Shia Islam.

Getting Iran involved in intel­ligence sharing will give the Shia Muslim country a higher profile in a region traditionally ruled by rival Sunni Muslim governments, which are leery that Iran’s rising influence may undermine their in­terests.

The Russian-brokered deal may also pave the way for temporarily rehabilitating the regime of Presi­dent Bashar Assad in Syria, where Moscow has embarked on a major troop and military build-up to help bring stability to its long-time Arab ally following more than four years of civil war. Iraqi columnist Hus­sein Sameraei told The Arab Week­ly that the newly announced pact introduces a “whole new ball game in the region”.

“It’s simply US out, we’ve had enough of your hesitancy and lack of results and welcome Russia and Iran, the floor is all yours now,” Sameraei said.

However, Mohammed al-Saadi, a member of the Iraqi journalists syndicate, said Russia was likely to refrain from digging too deep in the Middle East’s political intricacies.

“Russia is much smarter than what some are speculating that it may cross certain lines drawn by the US,” Saadi said. He added that Moscow’s main interest remains in Syria.

“But there will be no Russian army deployed to Iraq and soon we will see the roles being divided be­tween the major players,” he said.

Iraqi prime ministry spokesman Saad al-Hadithi said the centre be­ing set up will be run by senior se­curity officials from the four coun­tries.

“A joint coordination committee comprising top security and intel­ligence officials will operate out of the centre to share delicate secu­rity and intelligence data and ana­lyse that jointly,” Hadithi said.

Iraqi Defence Ministry spokes­man Nasser Nouri Mohammed said the centre will open “in weeks, maybe less”.

“It’s natural that these four na­tions would share intelligence be­cause they are all involved in fight­ing terrorism,” Mohammed said. He insisted that the pact “would not change” Iraq’s cooperation with the US-led coalition fighting ISIS.

Mohammed noted that the cen­tre’s leadership command will ro­tate between representatives of the four countries every three months, starting with Iraq.

“The cooperation is limited to sharing intelligence” on ISIS, he emphasised.

But the Russian Interfax news agency, citing an unnamed mili­tary source, said a committee for planning military operations and controlling army units in the fight against ISIS may also emerge.

The deal is the latest indication of the expanding Russian influence in the region and comes in the wake of the Moscow’s military build-up in neighbouring Syria. 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 sorties by the US-led coalition targeting ISIS’s strongholds in Iraq and Syria have produced little progress.

And, despite more than $25 bil­lion Washington allocated or spent on training and equipping Iraqi troops and Syrian forces opposed to Assad, ISIS remains in command of key cities in both countries. Iraq’s US-backed troops have failed to recapture from ISIS Mosul in the north and Ramadi, the capital of the vast western Anbar province.

Iraqi member of Parliament Ahmed al-Salmani of the Union of National Powers said the security cooperation was a “substantial de­velopment”.

“Hopefully, that will augment the effort of the international coali­tion,” he said. “Russia is an impor­tant player in the region and has clearly stood behind President As­sad against terrorism.”