Yesterday, when Gen. Joe Dunford claimed Iraq “doesn’t want Russia’s help” in the ongoing ISIS war, it appears to have been less a statement of fact and more a US threat of further punishments if Iraq dares to ask for Russian help, making it clear Iraq would lose all sorts of US aid if that happened.
Officials are making that all the more clear today, saying they’d explicitly warned Iraq that they have to choose between getting help from Russia in the ISIS war or continuing to get help from the US, with Dunford adding there was “angst” in the US about Iraq’s interest in Russian help.
Prime Minister Hayder Abadi made it clear, the moment Russia started helping Syria in their battle with ISIS he would welcome similar help, but so far he hasn’t made a formal request. Russia has suggested they would help if such a request was made, but have so far limited their aid to information sharing a move that itself fueled some US anger and retaliation.
US threats don’t seem to have entirely quashed that idea, however, and Abadi is facing calls from powerful political figures as well as some key militia leaders to ask Russia for help irrespective of its impact on US-Iraqi relations.
Whether this suggests the Iraqi officials are willing to swap US help for Russian help, or simply reflects a bet that the US is bluffing with its threats to stop backing the war is unclear, and indeed it’s hard to envision the US, having made the ISIS war a cornerstone of their foreign policy, ditching it outright just because of increased Russian involvement.
On the other hand, the US was quick to scrap intelligence sharing with Iraq when the Baghdad office for intelligence sharing was opened, and included Russia, Iran, and Syria, and the US “angst:” about the Russian involvement is leading to a lot of shrill proclamations, suggesting an unpredictable reaction.