Shiite-led Baghdad is growing closer to the Iran-Russia coalition in the Middle East that also includes Syria, as the collapse of the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL) in the region appears imminent.
Together with Iran, Syria, and Russia, Iraq already runs the Baghdad Operation Room that allows the member states to share intelligence under an agreement reached in 2015 without the knowledge of the United States.
Iraq helped Moscow establish its military presence in neighboring Syria, allowing Russian planes to fly over its territory while Bulgaria closed its airspace to Kremlin warplanes heading to the Middle East at the request of the United States.
“Iran and Iraq signed an agreement on Sunday to step up military cooperation and the fight against ‘terrorism and extremism,’ Iranian media reported, an accord which is likely to raise concerns in Washington,” reports Reuters.
“Extending cooperation and exchanging experiences in fighting terrorism and extremism, border security, and educational, logistical, technical and military support are among the provisions of this memorandum,” reported the state-controlled Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) after the signing of the accord in Tehran.
The following day, Iraq’s Vice President Nouri al-Maliki told Russian Foreign Minister (FM) Sergey Lavrov in Moscow that Baghdad would welcome Russia playing a bigger role in Iraq, reports Kurdish news outlet Rudaw.
Baghdad wants to create a balanced policy in Iraq, “in cooperation with Russia,” so that it does not allow for “disorder” to happen whereby a “foreign political entity” may impose its agenda in the country, Maliki told Lavrov.
The Iraqi official praised Russia for allegedly preventing the total collapse of Syria.
Moreover, he expressed concern about the “new stage” for Iraq after ISIS.
“Maybe Iraq is prone to new political developments in light of regional interferences,” declared Maliki.
The Iraqi VP made it clear that he opposes Iraqi Kurdistan’s independence referendum vote expected later this year, adding that the “unity of Iraq” is at risk.
Iran has long opposed Kurdish independence out of concern that it may incite the Kurds within its borders to do seek the same thing.
On Sunday, Iranian Defense Minister Hossein Dehghan and his Iraqi counterpart Erfan al-Hiyali signed a memorandum of understanding, which covers border security, logistics, fighting terrorism, and training, points out Reuters.
U.S. President Donald Trump has accused Iran of destabilizing the Middle East and backing terrorist groups in the region.
The U.S. has backed Iraq’s war against ISIS, recently helping the country’s forces and allies liberate Mosul, the terrorist group’s main stronghold in the country.
Meanwhile, Baghdad has increasingly positioned itself as an ally of neighboring Iran, considered a state-sponsor of terrorism by the United States, and a close friend of America’s military rival Russia.
Iran and Russia have helped Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad remain in power, to the dismay of the United States.
Both Tehran and Moscow have established a military presence in Syria with the help of Iraq.
Late last year, Baghdad legalized an umbrella organization of predominantly Iran-allied militias as a component of the Iraqi army. At least one of those militias has threatened U.S. troops.
Nevertheless, Fareed Yasseen, the Iraqi ambassador to the United States, recently defended the legalized Iran-allied militias and the Islamic Rebublic.
Iran-allied Shiite militias have also threatened American troops in Syria.
Maliki acknowledged that Lavrov praised the intelligence sharing operation in Baghdad.
A couple of days before beginning its bombing campaign in Syria on behalf of Iran-backed Assad at the end of September 2015, Russia agreed to share intelligence with Iraq, Syria, and Iran without notifying former President Barack Obama’s administration.
The intelligence-sharing agreement helped Russia expand its political and military influence in the Syrian conflict.
At the time, the U.S. downplayed the significance of the pact.