Reuters published a report saying a group of Shia militias and the ruling Alliance of Iraq call on Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi to ask Russia to carry out air strikes on Islamic State (IS). The agency cited its own sources in Baghdad.
The Alliance MPs have already sent a request to Mr. Abadi. No answer has been received so far.
Hakim al-Zamili, the head of the Iraqi parliament's Defense and Security Committee, said on October 7 in Baghdad, «I think the upcoming few days or weeks Iraq will be forced to ask Russia to launch air strikes and that depends on their success in Syria.» «We are seeking to see Russia have a bigger role in Iraq,» he stressed adding, «Definitely a bigger role than the Americans have now.»
The politician pointed out that «After a whole year, Daesh (IS) is still growing and thousands of fighters are still flowing to both Iraq and Syria and it is controlling more areas. That's clear evidence the United States has no clear plan or a real strategy.»
According to the Reuters report, the Prime Minister is under great pressure from the ruling Iraqi National Alliance on the issue. He had previously expressed disappointment with the efficiency of the US intervention in Iraq against the terrorist group.
In early October, Abadi stated that the government will welcome the Russian air force strikes on IS positions in Iraq.
Impressed by what Russia has done to terrorists in Syria, Abadi said that he was considering Moscow's anti-terror presence in his country as «a possibility».
Russia’s response was positive as Ilya Rogachev, the director of the Russia’s Foreign Ministry's department on issues of new challenges and threats, said Moscow would consider launching the strikes if it gets «such a request from the Iraqi government or a Security Council resolution that depends decisively on the will of the Iraq government.»
Iraq's most powerful Iranian-backed Shi'ite militia Badr has also supported Russian air strikes against the Islamic State in Iraq. It has accused the United States of failing to act decisively against the ultra-hardline group. «We are looking forward to seeing Russian war planes bomb the positions and headquarters of Daesh (Islamic State) in Iraq and all its joint supply routes with Syria,» Muen al-Kadhimi, a senior aide to the leader of the Badr Brigade, told Reuters on October 5.
According to MP Mowaffak Rubaie, a member of the State of Law Coalition, the Iraqi parliament will vote on the proposal to ask Moscow for military assistance till the end of October. The State of Law Coalition is the country’s largest political party and a part of the ruling coalition. The lawmaker also said that the vote is expected to pass with majority support. «It doesn’t matter if the request is supported by Sunni and Kurdish factions or not, it changes nothing. We have enough strength in the parliament.»
Meanwhile, the President of Iraqi Kurdistan's regional government, Massoud Barzani, said in statement that «better results» could be achieved in war against the Islamic State if Russia and the so-called international coalition coordinated their efforts, adding «the Kurdistan region… welcomes Russia if it supports the Peshmerga in the fight against ISIS (the Islamic State)».
On October 5, the Shi'ite Asaib Ahl al-Haq force also said it fully supported Russia's intervention against Islamic State in the Middle East. Its spokesman Naim al-Uboudi said Russia's air strikes in Syria had already produced results.
«We know that the United States, during the past year and a half, was not serious about putting an end to Daesh… they attempt to manage the crisis rather than put an end to it,» he noted.
No matter the idea to ask Russia for help is gaining increasing support, the Iraqi government is under pressure. The US strongly opposes this option. During his October visit to Iraq US Chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff General Joseph F. Dunford, stated that the US will refuse aid to Baghdad if the Iraqi authorities will turn to Russia with a request to carry out air strikes on is positions.
«I said it would make it very difficult for us to be able to provide the kind of support you need if the Russians were here conducting operations as well,» Dunford said. «We can't conduct operations if the Russians were operating in Iraq right now.» He said there was «angst» in the U.S. when reports surfaced that al-Abadi had said he would welcome Russian airstrikes in Iraq. The US, Dunford said, «can't have a relationship right now with Russia in the context of Iraq.»
Support for Russian action against Islamic State in Iraq from the country's Shi'ite militias is seen as critical. The Shia militias are far more influential than the Iraqi army or security forces, which have proven ineffective against Islamic State, which controls about one third of Iraq and large swathes of neigbouring Syria.
The northern and western parts of Iraq have been plagued by gruesome violence since the IS began their campaign of terror in the country in June 2014. According to the United Nations, more than 21,000 Iraqis have lost their lives or sustained injuries due to the acts of violence and terrorism in the embattled Arab country since the beginning of the year. In a statement released on October 1, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in Iraq Fadel Ghraoui pointed to the dramatic rise in the number of ISIS operations against the Iraqi people, noting that a total of 6,238 Iraqis were killed and another 14,933 injured between January 1 and October 1, 2015.
Iraq received over $20 billion in U.S. military training since the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003 but its army virtually collapsed when Islamic State fighters invaded to seize stathes of land in the north and the west of Iraq. U.S.-led air strikes have failed to turn the tide in the war against the ultra-hardline Sunni militants who have declared a caliphate and want to redraw the map of the Middle East.
The rising popular support for Russia across the Middle East is an evident fact. For instance, on October 12, the Washington Post published the article headlined Amid Russian Air Strikes, a Putin Craze Takes Hold in Mideast.
The piece is devoted to widely spread support – from Syria to Egypt, Iraq to Lebanon – the Russia’s Middle East policy and military operation in Syria has received in the Arab world. It states, «Russia has had strong ties with the Mideast for years. The fascination with Putin is driven largely by a longstanding suspicion of the West and anger about decades of U.S. intervention in the region that many say has led to more wars and sectarianism. Many hope a stronger Russia would lead to a more balanced approach.»
* * *
The Iraqi government may not ask Russia for help ceding to US pressure. The words pronounced by General Dunford are the best evidence of such pressure being exerted. But the very fact that leading Iraqi political forces mobilize in an effort to make the Iraqi government ask Moscow for military assistance is the best proof of Russia’s success in Syria.