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Iraq leans towards Moscow in IS fight

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BAGHDAD, Oct 7, (Agencies): Iraq may request Russian air strikes against Islamic State on its soil soon and wants Moscow to have a bigger role than the United States in the war against the militant group, the head of parliament’s defence and security committee said on Wednesday. “In the upcoming few days or weeks, I think Iraq will be forced to ask Russia to launch air strikes, and that depends on their success in Syria,” Hakim al-Zamili, a leading Shi’ite politician, told Reuters in an interview.

The comments were the clearest signal yet that Baghdad intends to lean on Russia in the war on Islamic State after US-led coalition airstrikes produced limited results. Russian military action in Iraq would deepen US fears that it is losing more strategic ground in the region as Russia weighs in behind President Bashar al-Assad with airstrikes in Syria and Iran holds deep sway in Iraq. Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has said he would welcome Russian airstrikes on Islamic State militants in Iraq and powerful Iranian-backed Shi’ite militias hope for a partnership with Russia to counter US influence. “We are seeking to see Russia have a bigger role in Iraq. … Yes, definitely a bigger role than the Americans,” Zamili said. Shi’ite militias, long mistrustful of the United States, see Russia’s intervention as an opportunity to turn the tables.

Russia’s drive for more clout in the Middle East includes a new security and intelligence-sharing agreement with Iran, Iraq and Syria with a command centre in Baghdad. “We believe that this centre will develop in the near future to be a joint operation command to lead the war against DAESH in Iraq,” said Zamili, using a derogatory Arabic acronym for Islamic State, which is also known as ISIS or ISIL.

Meanwhile, Iraqi forces have retaken several areas north and west of Ramadi as efforts to close in on the Anbar provincial capital seized by jihadists in May intensify, officials said Wednesday. An operation involving 2,000 troops backed by air strikes from the US-led coalition led to the recapture of several neighbourhoods from the Islamic State group. A brigadier general from the Anbar operations command said those included Zankura, Albu Jleib, Al-Adnaniyah and parts of Albu Risha and an area known as Kilometre 5.

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