Russia vows to help Iraq battle terrorism after US withdrawal from Syria

Moscow is aiming to boost ties with Iraq to challenge US influence

epa07331081 Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov (R) and Iraqi Foreign Minister Mohamed Ali Alhakim (L) hikes hands during a press conference after their meeting in Moscow, Russia, 30 January 2019. According to the spokesperson of Russian Foreign Ministry, Ali Alhakim is in Russia to discuss about critical issues on the global and regional agenda with a focus on the situation in Syria.  EPA/YURI KOCHETKOV
Beta V.1.0 - Powered by automated translation

Russia pledged on Wednesday to support Iraq in fighting ISIS and to re-establish security ties between the two states, especially as the US plans to withdraw troops from Syria.

Baghdad declared victory against ISIS in December 2017. The group seized a third of the country in nearly three years ago, but since losing the majority of its caliphate, the group has maintained sleeper cells and resorted to guerrilla tactics.

“We are interested in actively helping you tackle this challenge. Let us discuss all these matters,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told his Iraqi counterpart Mohammed Al Hakim on Wednesday.

The Russian official stressed the importance of re-establishing security in Iraq. He expressed hope that a planned US pullout from Syria will not be used to expand Washington’s influence elsewhere in the region.

"We expect that US military presence in Iraq will meet its stated goals, namely, to fight terrorism and help the government to stabilise the situation, and not to somehow solve the geopolitical tasks in the region that are unilaterally pursued by Washington,” Mr Lavrov said during a press conference in Moscow.

Russia is aiming to boost ties with Iraq to challenge American influence in the country. Moscow has so far invested millions of dollars in Iraq’s energy sector and has opened a command centre in Baghdad under an intelligence-sharing agreement with Iraq, Iran and Syria aimed at combatting ISIS.

Both ministers praised the work of Baghdad’s intelligence centre.

Mr Lavrov confirmed that Russia will enhance Iraq’s capabilities to counter terrorism and to enhance their military cooperation.

On his part, Iraqi Foreign Minister Mohammed Al Hakim confirmed that Russia’s military and security cooperation will guarantee an ISIS defeat in Syria and Iraq.

In Syria, Iraq’s military has conducted several airstrikes against ISIS since last year, with the approval of President Bashar Al Assad and the US-led coalition fighting the insurgents.

Baghdad has maintained close relations with Syria throughout civil war that has killed 400,000 people in its first six years, United Nations envoy to Syria Staffan de Mistura estimated in 2016. The death toll could be much higher as the civil war remains ongoing almost three years on.

Iraq’s former Foreign Minister Ibrahim Al Jaafari visited Damascus last October and met with his Syrian counterpart Walid Al Moualem and President Bashar Al Assad.

Mr Al Hakim said in early January that Iraq will support efforts in restoring Syria’s membership in the Arab League eight years after it was expelled from the organisation.

The Iraqi official also stressed that the withdrawal of all forces from Syria, claiming that it will help revive the country's political process.

A member of Syria's Arab Shaytat tribe who has joined a Kurdish-led alliance fighting the Islamic State group in northern Syria, walks amid debris in the Syrian village of Baghouz on January 27, 2019.
 Numerous members of the Shaytat tribe have joined the fight to flush out the jihadists from a shrinking enclave near the Iraqi border. Backed by US-led coalition air strikes, they have confined the extremists to a final pocket spanning just four square kilometres (one and a half square miles) along the Euphrates River in Deir Ezzor province.

Mr Al Hakim said that there are ongoing discussions to find ways of ending Syria’s war and defeating terrorism in the country.

Meanwhile, King Felipe VI of Spain arrived in Iraq for a surprise visit on Tuesday in what marked the first trip for a Spanish monarch in 40 years to the war-torn country.

The king, whose country is a part of an international coalition fighting ISIS in Iraq, held talks with the commander of the coalition and showed his gratitude for their efforts.

“Thank you for what you do and for how you do it, you’re a source of pride for all Spaniards,” King Felipe told Spanish troops.

Hundreds of Spanish military experts currently reside in Iraq.

King Felipe also met with Iraqi President Barham Salih at the presidential palace.

He was accompanied by the Spanish Minister of Defence Margarita Robles Fernandez and Ambassador Stemman.

King Felipe's visit comes after a series of world leaders landed in Baghdad since the start of the new year, including US President Donald Trump. His unannounced trip drew criticism for his failure to meet Iraqi leaders.