Russia May Expand Anti-ISIS Offensive to Iraq

Russia may consider a formal request from Baghdad to expand its airstrikes against the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL) beyond Syria to Iraq, said the head of the Russian parliament’s upper chamber.

Iran-backed Shiite politicians in Iraq have called for Russian airstrikes against ISIS.

“Iraqi Shiite lawmakers and militia leaders are urging Russia to launch airstrikes on Islamic State militants in their country, an escalation that would heighten tensions with Washington and increase risks of a clash between the two powers,” reported the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) on Tuesday.

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has also expressed support for Russia’s military assistance against ISIS in Iraq, telling a press conference last week that he may allow Moscow to conduct airstrikes on Iraqi soil, Reuters reported.

“It is a possibility,” said the Iraqi PM. “If we get the offer we will consider it and I would welcome it.”

The WSJ report noted that Valentina Matviyenko, the head of Russia’s Federation Council, the upper house of parliament, during an official visit to Jordan on Tuesday said that Russia would carry out bombing raids in Iraq at the request of Baghdad. The Council approved the deployment of the Russian military to Syria last month.

“In the case of an appeal by the Iraqi leadership to Russian Federation, the country’s leadership will consider the political and military expediency of our air force’s participation in an air operation,” said Matviyenko. “No appeal yet has been made.”

Matviyenko echoed remarks made by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov last week, where he suggested the possibility of Russian strikes in Iraq at a United Nations news conference.

“We haven’t been invited, we haven’t been asked, and we are polite people, as you know. We won’t come if we’re not invited,” Lavrov told reporters.

The Russian military has carried out a number of airstrikes in Syria since last week, following an order by Russian President Vladimir Putin to conduct an air campaign against terrorists in the war-torn country.

However, data shows that the majority of Russian attacks are targeting rebels fighting against forces loyal to Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad, not ISIS.

In a statement, the U.S. and other nations that oppose Assad urged Russia to focus on attacking ISIS rather than opposition groups.

“Since Moscow began bombing opponents of the regime in Syria last week, Iraq’s Shiite politicians, who dominate government, have been largely united in their praise of Moscow’s intervention and in calls for Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi to invite Russia to join the battle,” explains the Journal. “Mr. Abadi said he would welcome Russian strikes as long as they were coordinated with the U.S.-led coalition’s air campaign against Islamic State in Iraq.”

“We welcome Russian airstrikes in Iraq to help hit Islamic State headquarters, target Islamic State supply lines from Syria and target the oil smuggling lines,” reportedly said Moeen al-Kadhimi, a spokesman for the Badr Corps, an Iran-backed militia and political party that plays an essential role in fighting ISIS. “We welcome Russia as they have advanced military technology and can help with intelligence.”


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