Why is Russia in Syria? Part 3 A Complicated Picture in Syria and Iraq

by omouggos

Read Part 2 Here.

We must recognized that the situation in Syria is a complicated one. Russia is not acting alone. In fact it seems to be forming a fledgeling coalition, involving China, Iraq, Iran and Syria, a grouping which by some has been named the Coalition of the Righteous.[1] An important part of this coalition has been Iran, which has been involved in the Syrian Civil War from the very beginning along with their Lebanese proxy Hezbollah. While Hezbollah provides fighters, Iran provides ‘advisors,’ supplies and financial aid to Bashar al-Assad’s regime. It has been suggested by DEBKAfile that Iran is spending $2.5 billion per year in supporting Assad’s regime.[2]

An important aspect of Iran’s involvement in Syria, and in Iraq, has been Qassem Soleimani, a senior commander of the Quds Force in charge of foreign operations. This man has been on the forefront of Iran’s proxy wars helping to formulate and implement on the ground strategies for combating ISIL in Syria and Iraq. There have been unconfirmed reports that Soleimani had traveled to Moscow on at least two separate occasions, in July and September, to meet with Russian military officials.[3] Exactly what was discussed is a matter of conjecture, yet according to a ‘senior regional official’ when Soleimani visited Moscow in July, he “put the map of Syria on the table. The Russians were very alarmed, and felt matters were in steep decline and that there were real dangers to the regime. The Iranians assured them there is still the possibility to reclaim the initiative.[4] As can be seen from subsequent events, the Russians have indeed reclaimed the initiative.

Preceding Russia’s intervention in Syria, the timing of Soleimani’s alleged visit to Moscow and his comment that “the world will be surprised by what we and the Syrian military leadership are preparing for the coming days,[5] suggests that Russia and Iran planned this intervention in advanced. It appears that it was agreed that Russian would provide air support and intelligence to Assad, while Iran and Hezbollah would supply ground support. Evidence supporting this contention was the recent arrivals of 1,000 Iranian marines and 3,000 Revolutionary Guard soldiers.[6]

The changing situation in the Middle East is not limited to Syria, there are also interesting developments occurring in Iraq. During the last week of September, a “joint Russian-Iranian-Syrian-Iraqi war room” was established in Baghdad the purpose of which is to coordinate Russian, Iranian and Chinese airlifts (carrying among other things Shiite fighters) transiting through Iraq destined for Syria and to coordinate Russian air raids.[7] The Iraqi government has also agreed to allow Russian airplanes to operate out of Habbaniyah (which also houses 5,000 American military personnel).

The Prime Minister of Iraq, Haidar al-Abadi when asked if he had broached the possibility of Russian airstrikes against ISIL in Iraq responded, “Not yet. It is a possibility. If we get the offer we will consider it and I would welcome it.[8] There are also other prominent Iraqis who would welcome Russian intervention in Iraq, such as the parliamentarian Hakim al-Zamili and a spokesman for the Badr Corps Moen al-Kadhimi.[9] On the opposite side of the coin, the Russian parliament speaker, Valentina Matviyenko said that Russia would consider operations against ISIL in Iraq if they are asked by Iraqi officials.[10]

The warming relationship between Russia and Iraq is not limited to friendly talk, but now involves actual cooperation. According to Hakim al-Zamili a recent Iraqi air strike that successfully targeted ISIL commanders made use of intelligence coordinated through the Baghdad joint war room.[11] This cooperation will only increase as it has not been reported that Iraq’s Parliament has agreed to allow Russian warplanes to bomb ISIL targets within Iraq.[12]

It is most interesting that the Iraqi government did not inform their American ‘ally’ of any of these developments. As one surprised senior US official remarked, “they [the Russians] are popping up everywhere.[13] It appears that things are becoming topsy-turvy in Iraq.

Iran’s involvement is understandable, as is that of Iraq, which is increasingly becoming a proxy of Iran, but China’s entrance into the foray is much more surprising and unexpected. On September 25, a Chinese aircraft carrier docked in the Syrian port of Tartus and it has been reported that in short time Chinese J-15 warplanes and helicopters will arrive in Syria, to be used on the aircraft carrier.[7,14] In addition the Chinese have pledged 1,000 marines to be used to fight ISIL, particularly the Uighur element.[14]

This is just a brief description of some of the recent events that are rapidly unfolding in Syria and also in Iraq. It is clear that Russia is not acting alone, they are working with China, Hezbollah, Iran, Iraq and even Cuba, which has sent tank crews to Syria.[6] Therefore understanding what is occurring requires more than narrowly focusing on Russia. But it is also clear that Russia is the key player in this escalating drama, and that one can argue that President Putin is beginning to eclipse President Obama as the most powerful and important statesman in the world. So it is of the utmost importance to understand and rationalize what Putin is up to in Syria.

Read Part 4 Here.

O Mouggos


[1] http://orientalreview.org/2015/10/07/the-new-middle-east-russian-style-i/

[2] https://warsclerotic.wordpress.com/2015/04/24/how-does-sanctions-ridden-iran-find-a-multibillion-war-chest-to-fund-6-armies-fighting-in-4-mid-east-wars/

[3] http://www.timesofisrael.com/senior-iranian-general-said-to-make-second-moscow-trip/

[4] http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/world/middle-east/As-Russian-warplanes-bomb-rebels-Iran-pulls-the-strings-in-Syria/articleshow/49259942.cms

[5] http://tehrantimes.com/index_View.asp?code=247156

[6] http://www.debka.com/article/24883/First-Iranian-marines-land-in-Syria-link-up-with-newly-arrived-Russian-troops , http://www.debka.com/article/24950/Israel-perturbed-by-the-arrival-of-3-000-Iranian-troops-in-Syria-with-2-000-Cubans

[7] http://www.debka.com/article/24926/Chinese-warplanes-to-join-Russian-air-strikes-in-Syria-Russia-gains-Iraqi-air-base

[8] https://www.dailystar.com.lb/News/Middle-East/2015/Oct-01/317274-iraq-pm-disappointed-by-us-air-support-to-iraqi-forces-received-very-useful-info-from-russia.ashx

[9] http://www.wsj.com/articles/iraqis-urge-russia-to-strike-isis-1444152440 , http://www.presstv.ir/Detail/2015/10/07/432381/Iraq-Russia-Daesh-Zamili-Syria-lawmaker-US

[10] http://www.presstv.ir/Detail/2015/10/07/432296/Russia-Iraq-Daesh-Matviyenko-collation-alAbadi

[11] http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2015/10/iraq-syria-russia-iran-isil-151014061134849.html

[12] http://sputniknews.com/middleeast/20151025/1029079639/iraq-allows-russian-airstrikes-isil.html

[13] http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2015/09/25/russians-syrians-and-iranians-setting-up-military-coordination-cell-in-baghdad/

[14] http://www.debka.com/article/24909/A-Chinese-aircraft-carrier-docks-at-Tartus-to-support-Russian-Iranian-military-buildup-