New Baghdad security hub brings in Russia
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.”