03.12.2015 Author: Alexander Orlov

Should Russia Really Be Involved in the Iraqi Conflict?

13743The assault against Islamist forces in Syria that was launched by Russia’s warplanes and Syrian regular troops led to what can be easily described as a major victory – ISIL militants are now fleeing to Iraq. Yet the question over  what should be done to put an end to the Islamic State in Iraq, where the Iraqi army, Shia militias, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard  and the US Air Force have yet to achieve much progress.

In this situation, on November 29 two US Senators – John McCain and Lindsey Graham put forward a proposition to send up to 10,000 US troops to Iraq and Syria. According to them, the ongoing air campaign in the region is not producing any positive results, so the only way to deal with the Islamist threat is to put boots on the ground, they argue. At the same time, Barack Obama has repeatedly claimed that US units will not be taking part in  ground operations in either of those states.

We are 11 months away from the presidential election in the US, and in that period it’s unlikely that the situation is going to change. Such a decision can be taken by the next American president that will have to deal with the international situation that would be handed over to him by the sitting administration. The withdrawal of US troops from Iraq has been presented in the West as the greatest achievement of Obama’s foreign policy, to get them back there is to recognize one’s complete and utter failure.

Obama’s attempts to stay away from ground operations in Iraq and Syria have been supported by the primary Democrat contender for the White House – Hillary Clinton. On November 30 in an interview with CBS she stated that she cannot imagine a situation under which she would make  a different decision, since she’s convinced that the best way to fight ISIL is to keep bombing them. At the same time she was rather skeptical regarding the militaristic position that is being pushed forward by Republicans.

As for Washington’s plans to deploy special forces in Iraq, recently announced by the Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi decided to stress the fact that a military operation in Iraq can not be conducted without the consent of the Iraqi government once again, just to be clear. Sources in the Iraqi government are denying claims that there’s been any kind of discussions about the deployment of American special forces in Iraq.

In the meantime, the moment of complete and utter defeat of ISIL troops in Syria is approaching. Russian bombing raids have recently been supported by French aircraft that are in turn supported by the French Charles de Gaulle aircraft carrier. This week, the German Bundestag will be voting on sending German reconnaissance planes and more than one thousand soldiers to Syria. The United Kingdom may soon join the operation in Syria too, in an attempt not to miss the victory celebrations. It did pretty much the same in June 1944 with the opening of a “second front”, when Moscow was steps away from capturing Berlin on its own.

There’s already more than 250,000 men fighting ISIL on the ground, including the Syrian Army, Hezbollah forces, elite soldiers from the Iranian Revolutionary Guards and the Kurdish Peshmerga. As for the remaining members of anti-Assad forces, there’s as little as 70 thousand men left that are fit for  battle. If some opposition leaders or members of the Free Syrian Army do not want to be associated with ISIL, they must lay down their arms before it’s too late.

The question of how the new Syria will be built from the point of view of its governing structure remains a point of contention. In fact, we are witnessing attempts to divide “the Syrian cake.” But, against the backdrop of the crucial role Moscow, Iran and  Syria played in the defeat of ISIL, Russia should take steps that would prevent the participation of external forces in that decision making process. Those forces did all they could to do away with the legitimate Syrian government: the United States, NATO, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar. Nevertheless, they continue to foolishly and stubbornly repeat that Bashar al-Assad “must go.” In fact, he should not. His fate will be decided by the Syrian people, who had to suffer the most in this brutal war.

So, apparently, it’s time to stop Moscow’s diplomatic games on the “Syrian reconciliation” process, which takes in consideration the nearly nonexistent opposition, that has been living abroad for the better part of the time and is heavily sponsored by the West, Turkey and Persian Gulf monarchies. They have missed their chance together with their patrons. What made sense last September has now lost any meaning, due to the radical changes in the situation on the ground. The idea of a dialogue with the opposition, with the participation of foreign sponsors of all sorts of terrorists and extremists, whether the talks are being held in Geneva or Vienna, is now outdated and harmful. The very discussion of the fate of Bashar al-Assad simply postpones the defeat of terrorism in the Syrian Arab Republic (SAR). The role of the sitting government in Damascus in the bringing of Syrian back on track in the post-ISIL scenario can hardly be overestimated,

But talks about the future of Iraq should definitely start now, since the fight against ISIL is much more complicated there than in Syria. Otherwise, it will make no sense for Moscow to help the government in Baghdad, that is Tehran-oriented and heavily dependent on Washington. Without those talks Iraq is doomed. For Russia fighting for Iraq means that it is going to solve the problems of Washington and Tehran with the power of Russian arms, at the cost of its own treasure, while risking the lives and blood of Russian soldiers.

Moscow has repeatedly denied the possibility of its participation on the ground in Syria. And once the Russian bomber was shot down by the Turkish Air Force, Russia ceased mentioning such an operation altogether. In addition, nothing is being said about the possibility of sending Russian warplanes from Syria, if Moscow is to receive an official invitation from Baghdad, even despite the fact that just a month ago Russian authorities were speaking about such a possibility. Nevertheless, there’s a number of military experts in Russia that have already counted how many tanks, infantry units, vehicles, helicopters and warplanes that should be sent to defeat ISIL in Iraq. These constitute mostly mindless flag-wavers most likely either patriots or instigators willing to get Russia drawn into a war in the Middle East, despite the huge difficulties that the Russian economy faces. Russia cannot pay for a “second Afghanistan.” It must also be remembered that despite the United States committing to a long-term occupation of Iraq and its vast financial resources due to the ability to print dollars, it still failed to succeed there.

It’s about time to openly admit that ISIL is not a natural disaster, not an Islamist revolt against the West and rotten Arab regimes, it’s not even a terrorist phenomenon like al-Qaeda despite the fact that ISIL militants resort to similarly brutal and inhuman terrorist methods. ISIL is a carefully devised project, launched by Washington and London in a bid to launch a wave of “uncontrolled chaos” across the Middle East. The main goal of this project is to secure Washington’s control over this hydrocarbon-rich region against the background of a massive decline of US influence in the Arab World and amid the internal crises that Saudi Arabia and Qatar face. The existence of a “caliphate” is still profitable to a number of states, including the United States, Turkey, KSA, Qatar and others. Washington is watching from a distance as Shiites and Sunnis kill each other, while Iran and Saudi Arabia strive to get an upper hand. In this situation, the rulers of Riyadh, Doha, and Ankara demanded Washington to save them from the growing “expansion” of Iran in the Persian Gulf. The US was willing to help, allowing those states to buy more than 70 billion dollars worth of weapons. The US is also willing to preserve its bases in Qatar, in Bahrain, Kuwait and KSA. If all those players wanted ISIL to be destroyed, it would/could certainly be obliterated by the US war machine.

In fact, the existence of ISIL is only damaging Russia’s interests along with the interests of its partners in the region, such as Syria, Iran, and Baghdad. Israel is also not too happy about it, since its existence is constantly threatened by radical Islamists from neighboring countries and  from within. The main threat of ISIL for Russia is its ability to infiltrate its territory to seek the destabilization of the country, especially in North Caucasus, the Volga region, and Central Asia. So one should not be surprised that the West and Turkey were never serious about defeating such a threat.

It’s clear that those responsible should deal with the problems they created. Those obedient minions Washington was so fond of have already bitten back by carrying out attacks in Paris. A similar transformation occurred with Al-Qaeda, that was also created by the CIA with the assistance of Saudi Arabia and Qatar to fight the USSR in Afghanistan. Europe has a final say in this situation.. After all, the Paris massacre can be followed by attacks in Berlin, London, Rome, Madrid. As for Russia, it should follow the example of China watching the fight against ISIL in Iraq from a distance, as the US, Iran, Turkey and Saudi Arabia try to get an upper hand there. While this doesn’t prevent it from helping Baghdad, help should be based on commercial interests. It should also be helping those who are really fighting ISIL in Iraq today – the Kurds in Northern Iraq and their paramilitary units Peshmerga. Yet, whatever happens in Iraq is not Russia’s war to fight.

Aleksander Orlov, a political scientist, expert-orientalist, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook“.