Iraqi Kurdistan has asked Russia for military and humanitarian aid. The request was made by Falah Mustafa Bakir, the head of the foreign department of Kurdistan’s Regional Government (KRG), after his visit to Moscow on November 1 to hold talks with Russian Deputy Foreign Minister and Special Presidential Representative for the Middle East and North Africa Mikhail Bogdanov.
The KRG delegation made a trip to Russia to boost the bilateral ties, especially with regard to energy cooperation. Gazprom Neft, a subsidiary of Russia’s state-owned energy company, has been drilling in the Kurdistan Region for almost two years. According to Mr. Bakir, the KRG considered Russia as an ally, so it was only natural to asks it for all kinds of assistance, including military aid.
Massoud Barzani, the President of Iraq's Kurdistan region, has called for Russia and the US-led coalition to joint efforts in the fight against Islamic State (IS). According to him, «The Kurdistan region… welcomes Russia if it supports the peshmerga in the fight against Daesh (IS)».
In 2007, Russia opened its Erbil consulate in Iraqi Kurdistan. It rendered military aid in March, including 23mm ZU-23-2 anti-aircraft guns and grenade launchers. The parties discussed further arms supplies, in particular light armored vehicles. It is important to note that the military aid was provided with the consent of the Iraqi central government. Moscow had also provided military aid to the Iraqi regular military with Russia-made weapons used to fight IS during the Mosul operation undertaken by the US-supported coalition.
The Iraqi Kurds are playing a key role in vital battles against the Islamic State and other extremist groups. Their desire to cooperate with Moscow is a natural thing to do as Russia’s influence in the Middle East has considerably grown.
Iraqi Kurdistan faces the problem of refugee flows as result of the Mosul offensive. Hundreds of thousands of civilians are trapped in Mosul, with US-led forces refusing to create safe escape routes and urging residents instead to «shelter in place. The lack of preparations to minimize civilian casualties and accommodate refugees had been predicted.
The battle will almost certainly destroy the city, and pose serious humanitarian problems. Emergency camps set up on the outskirts of Mosul can accommodate just 60,000 people. Some 660,000 people are expected to flee their homes and as many as 1.5 million people will be severely affected in the operation to retake Mosul. The civilians in camps for displaced persons will be fertile breeding grounds for IS recruits.
On November 6, Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova posted a remark on Facebook saying the current situation in Mosul starts to look like a «medieval slaughter, in which the civilian population is primarily affected». According to her, «It turned out that no fundamental plan to rescue the civilians has been developed. There’s no such thing as humanitarian corridors. There is no consistency in the evacuation of the people». «One thing is clear, the coalition treats the Iraqi civilians in Mosul a lot worse than the militants in Aleppo», the spokesperson concluded.
The operations launched by the US-supported coalition to push IS out of the Iraqi cities of Ramadi and Falluja have also ended up in human tragedies. Entire suburbs were razed to the ground as a result of air and ground strikes with civilians trapped. In Falluja more than 60,000 people had to fend for themselves. These lessons have not been learnt as the ongoing events in Mosul show.
Obviously, even without direct involvement in combat actions, Russia is contributing to the victory over IS in Iraq and elsewhere. The Iraqi government is cooperating on intelligence and security in Baghdad with Russia, Iran and Syria to counter the extremist group. The Baghdad coordination center has been operational since 2015. The intelligence exchange is used to enhance the efficiency of strikes against IS in Mosul.
The same way, Russia will be directly or indirectly involved in the operation «Euphrates Rage» – the offensive launched by US-led coalition in Syria on November 5 to retake Raqqa, the Islamic State's de facto capital. It should be pointed out that, unlike Russia, the United States has not been invited by the Syrian government to conduct any military action on its territory to make the presence of American soldiers in Syria a violation of international law.
Sooner or later, Aleppo, Raqqa and Mosul will be retaken. What will happen next? In Iraq, the US and its coalition will face question of postwar governance. Mosul – the city with complex ethnic structure – will be a big problem. The hodge-podge coalition brings together rival groups. It’s hard to guarantee there will be no infighting after IS is gone. The Shiite militias may not be seen as liberators by Sunni inhabitants. So far, neither the US, nor the Iraqi government has succeeded in unifying Sunnis, Shiites, and Kurds in Iraq.
In Syria, the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), advancing to Raqqa, are a mixture of many groups with Kurds serving as the majority of the group’s leadership. Some of them are old rivals. Will they stay united? Will they be able to maintain law and order after IS is routed? Who exactly will control the city? What about the United Nations’ role and presence? Winning peace is no less important than achieving military victories.
There will be a plethora of complex problems to be tackled after IS loses the battle. Nothing like a workable plan for the postwar settlement exists. Russia and the US, as well as the coalitions they support, will have to join together at the round table and address the burning issues.
The United States may not want it but it will have to as its clout in the Middle East is waning. As time goes by, Russia and the US could not only revive the UN-sponsored Geneva peace process on crisis management in Syria, but broaden the agenda to include Iraq, Libya, Yemen and other tough political challenges.
There should be no race in an effort to push IS away from territories held but rather coordination of activities and vigorous diplomatic efforts aimed at reviving the UN-sponsored negotiations with representation of all pertinent actors – something Russia has been calling for a long time.