Does Russia provide a ‘faster’ arms option to Iraq than the U.S.?

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi talks to Russian President Vladimir Putin during their meeting at the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia, May 21, 2015. (Reuters)

Iraqi Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi’s trip to Moscow on Thursday does not only reveal Baghdad’s desperate need to get more arms in the face of a militant offensive to seize more of his country’s territory, but it also shows Russia as more of an easier and “faster” option than its ally in Washington.

With the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) group seizing the last Syrian regime-held crossing near Iraq late Thursday, Abadi left his country earlier in the day to be in Moscow in such critical timing and in spite of him being “advised not to go,” Ghassan Attiyah, an Iraqi political expert and the head of the UK-based Iraqi Foundation for Development and Democracy, told Al Arabiya News.

But Abadi is “in need of arms as soon as possible,” the London-based Attiyah said. “He cannot wait months and therefore Russia can offer him the light and medium-size weapons as soon as possible.”

While this “doesn’t cancel the need for American arms,” Attiyah confirmed, Russia is posed to offer Iraq a more “deferred” method of payment for it is arm purchases, he added.

Like Attiyah, Baghdad-based retired military officer Ameer al-Saadi, also described Russia as offering more of a flexible type of payment and it can send the much needed arms “within hours.”

Instead, the United States is slow and stipulates conditions when giving arms to Iraq in order to wield more political pressure on Baghdad with the latest U.S. proposal to send direct arm supplies to Sunni fighters and Kurdish Peshmerga forces, angering the central government in the Iraqi capital, Saadi explained.

“Abadi could not appeal to the Obama administration to diversify quantity and quality of arms requested during his visit to Washington last month,” Saadi said, adding that the arms shipment received to Iraq was “drop by drop.”

More urgency

However, the U.S. tone changed to show more urgency after U.S. Vice President Joe Biden told Abadi in a telephone call on May 15 that Washington was “expediting” weapons shipments to Iraq.

Still, the U.S. response did not fulfill Iraq’s pressing request, especially in light of the continuously worsening situation on ground. On late Thursday, the head of Albufahad tribe from the western province of Anbar said ISIS seized a large portion of the Hussaiba suburb in Ramadi, compelling Iraq to need more arms and equipment now as opposed to waiting weeks.

On the same day, as Russian President Vladimir Putin said Moscow and Baghdad were expanding military cooperation during Abadi’s visit, the Pentagon announced that Washington would deliver 2,000 AT-4 anti-tank rockets to Iraq as early as next week, 1,000 more than announced on Wednesday, to help Baghdad combat suicide car bombings by ISIS.

The White House previously promised Iraq weapons that include AT-4 shoulder-held rockets to counter vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices, as well as ammunition and other supplies.

ISIS was able to capture the city of Ramadi on May 17 in an offensive that involved about 30 car bombs, 10 of which had the same explosive impact as the Oklahoma City bombing and “took out entire city blocks” in Ramadi, an anonymous senior Department of State official told The New York Times.

Better arms

As Iraq waits for its U.S. arms, Saadi criticized the AT-4 shoulder-held rockets, mulling Russia as more of a better option. He said AT-4 can infiltrate 20 centimeters thick shields and spans 300-500 meters in range as oppose to the Russian Kornet which can infiltrate 30 centimeters thick shields and reach up to 2200-2500 meters.

During Abadi’s visit to Washington, he criticized the U.S. for not stepping up the U.S.-led coalition’s airstrikes against ISIS in Iraq, showing Baghdad’s frustration.

“Why did the U.S. yesterday launch strikes 20 airstrikes in Syria’s Palmyra and to Ramadi, while yesterday, the Saudi-led coalition launched with 100 airstrikes in Yemen? Is the U.S. capability less than that of the Arab coalition?” Saadi asked, including why the Iraqi-Syria border area – which is sparsely populated - is an unattended “open-gate” with no heavy U.S. airstrikes targeting the militant group there.

The analyst’s criticism came just before ISIS seized the Syrian side of al-Waleed crossing late Thursday and before Iraq closed its border with its neighboring country.

However, other analysts see Abadi’s visit to Moscow as reflection of Iraq’s divisive politics and not to appear as solely dependent on the United Stated.

Relying on more than one actor

Renad Mansour, a research fellow at the Iraq Institute for Strategic Studies in Beirut, said Abadi was in Moscow because he was trying to be “open with everyone” and not to rely on one actor.

“It is important for him [Abadi] to meet with different actors, there is a lot of stigma of relying on the U.S.,” he said, in reference to the “internal opposition from segments within his own [al-Dawa] party and other Shiites who are closer to Iran for example.”

His visit to Moscow shows his own mark of premiership “in face of these segments who are pushing him down,” he added.

“It is for him, it is better for him to establish relationship with Russia to kind of mark his own premiership, his own power and stand in face of these segments that are pushing him down.

Attiyah also mulled that Abadi has sought to pressure Russia to be part of a political solution to what is happening in Iraq especially with its regional and international consequences as it is a U.N. permanent member.

“If Anbar falls, not only Iraq is threatened but also Lebanon, Jordan and Saudi Arabia. It is strategic, the U.S. needs to act fast,” Saadi said.
 

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