Frustrated with the United States’ slow progress against the self-proclaimed Islamic State (also known as ISIS), Iraq is flirting with the idea of taking on Russia as its primary partner in the battle. The Iraqi military announced last week that it had reached an intelligence-sharing deal with Iran, Russia, and Syria. Haider al-Abadi, Iraq’s prime minister, recently said that he would be open to the idea of allowing Russian air strikes in Iraq. And the highly influential Shiite cleric Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani called for greater international involvement in the fight against ISIS, hinting that he, too, would welcome Russian support.
Iraq has a history of seeking additional weaponry from Russia whenever it believes that U.S. efforts have fallen short. In 2013, former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki signed a $4.2 billion arms deal with Russia after the United States delayed the delivery of F-16s to Iraq, partly out of fears in Washington about how Maliki was planning to use the jets. And after an apparently unsatisfactory trip to the United States in April of this year, Abadi traveled to Russia to appeal for more arms—a request that the government of President Vladimir Putin granted.
The Iraqis have increasingly come to prefer dealing with the Russians. One source from the Iraqi Foreign Ministry complained to me of the U.S. insistence on training Iraqis in the use of antitank missiles, which, the source scoffed, “ISIS farmers can figure out how to use.” He added that the Russians would never insist on such patronizing restrictions. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov confirmed as much on September 27, when he told Russian press that his country was prepared to supply Iraq with modern weaponry without presenting any political conditions—unlike, he said, other arms suppliers.
Iraqi Defense Minister Khaled al-Obeidi went even further during a visit to Moscow earlier this year, in which he said that “in the battles we are fighting now, Russian weapons have proved themselves as the very best. I know that
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