The Iraqi military announced Sunday that it had agreed to share intelligence about the Islamic State with Russia, the Syrian government and Iran, an agreement that caught the Obama administration off guard.
The Iraqi military said in a statement that the new agreement was necessary because thousands of volunteers who have joined the Islamic State have come from Russia. Asked if he welcomed the accord, Secretary of State John Kerry said it was important that the United States and Russia coordinate.
“I think the critical thing is that all of the efforts need to be coordinated,” Mr. Kerry said at the start of a meeting in New York with Sergey V. Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister. “This is not yet coordinated. I think we have concerns about how we’re going to go forward, but that’s precisely what we’re meeting on to talk about now.”
As Russia has engaged in a military buildup at an air base near Latakia in Syria, President Vladimir V. Putin has sought to assemble his own coalition against the Islamic State, one that includes the Syrian government and Iran.
The effort, which Mr. Putin is expected to underscore in his speech at the United Nations on Monday, appears designed to increase Russia’s influence over efforts to resolve the Syrian conflict. It not only puts Russia in a position to support President Bashar al-Assad militarily, but it could enable the Kremlin to influence the choice of a successor if Mr. Assad were eventually to leave power.
With about 3,500 American advisers, trainers and other military personnel in his country, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi of Iraq has cast himself as a vital member of the United States-led coalition to combat the Islamic State, and has not joined the Russian-led coalition.
But Iraq has also quietly enabled the Russian military buildup in Syria and has cooperated with Iran, from which it receives military support. While Bulgaria closed its airspace to Russian transport planes headed to Syria at the request of the United States, Iraq has allowed the Russian flights to use its airspace. Virtually all of the Russian transport planes that have flown weapons and equipment to the air base near Latakia have crossed through Iraqi and Iranian airspace.
“We did not violate any of our commitments toward the international community,” Ibrahim al-Jaafari, Iraq’s foreign minister, said when he was asked about the Russian flights during a Friday appearance at the Council on Foreign Relations.
Iraq is buying aircraft and other weapons from Russia. But American concerns that Mr. Putin might be trying to draw Iraq into the Russia-led coalition grew last week when a group of Russian military officers were observed in Baghdad.
Russia did not provide advance notice to the Obama administration of its decision to deploy attack planes, fighter aircraft, tanks and other military equipment near Latakia.
Asked about the purpose of the agreement announced by the Iraqi military Sunday, Mr. Lavrov said it was to “coordinate the efforts against ISIL,” using an acronym for the Islamic State.
Mr. Kerry, however, stressed that there was much to be done if the two sides were to effectively coordinate.
“Our presidents will be meeting tomorrow,” Mr. Kerry said. “This is the beginning of a genuine effort to see if there is a way to de-conflict, but also to find a way forward that will be effective in keeping a united, secular Syria that can be at peace and stable again without foreign troops present, and that’s our hope.”
A senior State Department official, who briefed reporters after Mr. Kerry’s meeting with Mr. Lavrov on the condition of anonymity, said that the two diplomats had not discussed the new Iraqi intelligence accord. “We’re just at the beginning of trying to understand what the Russians’ intentions are in Syria, in Iraq, and to try to see if there are mutually beneficial ways forward here,” said the official. “We’ve got a long way to go in that conversation.”
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(via NY Times)