One of the major challenges facing Syria — assuming that the ceasefire holds, and some kind of political settlement can be reached, which is quite an assumption — is the fact that it shares an enormous, porous border with a country that has its own very serious problem with gun-totting weirdos zooming around in Toyotas. We are of course speaking of Iraq.
No long-term peace in Syria is possible without some level of regional security. Russia understands this. While Moscow’s immediate military objectives in Syria have been met, it now sees ISIS in Iraq as a potential pain in the ass. But it’s possible that Russia might take a more active role in helping to curb stomp scum in Iraq. As Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov noted on Monday:
“In broader terms, we should not forget that the Islamic State (IS, outlawed in Russia) is operating not only in Syria, but also in Iraq,” the minister said. “The US-led coalition is working In Iraq with Baghdad’s consent.”
“I do not rule out that, if the Iraqi authorities show interest, we will be able to provide additional support to them, at least in terms of intelligence data, but in other forms as well,” Lavrov emphasized.
We doubt that Lavrov would make such a statement if Russia only intends to help with intelligence gathering and sharing. After all, Moscow is already sharing intelligence and coordinating anti-terror operations with Iraq, Syria and Iran (the four nations share an anti-terror command center in Baghdad).
With Trump and Putin both showing interest in coordinating anti-terror operations in the region, it’s possible that Russia could be invited by Iraq to play a more pronounced role in the ongoing fight against ISIS.
Although it’s clear that Moscow is eager to end military operations in Syria, don’t be misled into believing that Russia is pulling out of the Middle East. On the contrary, Russia now has serious skin in the game, and will do everything it can to ensure regional security.
Will we see Russian and American bombers flying side-by-side over the skies of Iraq? It’s hard to imagine, but don’t dismiss the possibility.