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Iraq and Russia: Motivations for Interaction in New Conditions

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Ali Akbar Asadi
PhD Candidate, University of Allameh Tabatabaei & Expert on Middle East Issues

When the United States was planning to launch a military invasion of Iraq in 2003, Russia along with a number of other European countries like France were the most important states which opposed military attack against Iraq. The leaders of Kremlin believed that occupation of Iraq by the United States and the subsequent regime change in the Arab country will turn it into a US ally in the Middle East region. As a result, they maintained, Russia would lose much of its maneuvering room for increasing its influence on and interact with the post-Saddam Iraq. Now, less than 10 years after the invasion of Iraq by the United States and the initiation of the new state building process in the country, the Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has visited Russia recently during which a weapons deal worth more than 4 billion dollars was signed between Iraq and Russia. This development will undoubtedly bring up new scenarios and options as to Russia’s role and status in Iraq’s foreign relations which may be at odds with some earlier views on this issue.

Al-Maliki’s Moscow visit and signing of the aforesaid weapons contract was also accompanied with bilateral talks on further expansion of trade and economic relations as well as discussions and negotiations on important regional issues between the two sides. These developments are clear indications of both countries’ resolve to promote positive interaction and powerful relations between the two sides which is thought-provoking in view of the quality of the existing relations between Iraq and the United States following collapse of the country’s former dictator Saddam Hussein and also in view of new conditions in the Middle East region. A question which should be asked in this regard is what motivations and common goals have encouraged Iraq and Russia to boost interactions under the current circumstances and how those motivations may push the two countries toward increased interaction. This article will first focus on the motivations of Russians followed by motivations and goals which have prompted the Iraqi government to expand interactions with Moscow.

Russia’s motivations for expanding interactions with Iraq arise from, firstly, the important regional standing of Iraq and the background of relations between Moscow and Baghdad; and secondly, from new developments in the region, including the ongoing crisis in Syria. During the Cold War period, Iraq was among the main regional allies of the former Soviet Union in the Middle East. As a result, political and military relations between the two countries were vast and the Soviet Union always considered Iraq as a window for influence over the Middle Eastern developments. Since Iraq is still trying to improve its domestic conditions and rebuild various components of its power structure while trying to play a major role in the region as an important and axial political player, it is still an important option for interaction and establishment of strategic relations with Russians. Therefore, under present circumstances in which Russia is trying to further activate its political role in the Middle East and promote its standing in this strategic region in order to prevent further domination of the West; Iraq, due to its important regional position, can be of great significance to Russia. Also, when it comes to such regional crises as the unrest in Syria, Iraq believes in non-interference of foreign countries in Syria, which it believes will further exacerbate the crisis. Thus, Baghdad’s viewpoints in this regard overlap with those of Russia and the two countries can join hands and play a very important role in the management of the Syrian crisis along with other players that are against foreign military intervention in the Arab country. Iraq can also serve Russia’s interests as a counterbalance against Turkey, thus helping to allay Russia’s concerns over further expansion of Turkey’s regional role to the detriment of Moscow’s interests.

Baghdad, on the other hand, has its own motivations and goals for the promotion of relations with Russia which can be divided into international and regional motivations. At international level, the most important goal of Baghdad is to promote multilateralism and create a new kind of balance in its foreign policy approaches and relations with big powers. Although the lion’s share of Iraq’s foreign interactions and relations are accounted for by the United States and the two countries’ strategic framework agreement has provided important grounds for all-out cooperation between Baghdad and Washington, Iraq is also willing to diversify its political as well as foreign relations options. This is even truer under present conditions when Iraq is doing its best to rebuild and strengthen its military power and has, therefore, signed diverse agreements for the purchase of weapons from the United States. At the same time, some American institutions and politicians have called on the US administration to consider conditions for selling weapons to Iraq. Washington is also showing a certain degree of doubt or caution about pervious plans to beef up Baghdad’s military power. For example, during his visit to Washington, the current President of the Iraqi Kurdistan Region Massoud Barzani asked the American officials to put off proposed sales of weapons to Baghdad. Some American officials have also asked for a total halt on the US arms sales to Iraq and have noted that the sales should be stopped if Iraq does not allow the US ExxonMobil company to continue its activities in the country. At the same time, Moscow has not considered any provisions and conditions for selling strategic weapons to Iraq and has even asked on Baghdad to pave the way for the expansion of economic cooperation between the two countries, especially for the presence of the Russian oil companies in Iraq. On regional scale, Iraqi officials have reached the understanding that Russia can offer a different option for cooperation for the resolution of regional crises, which may also counteract the mounting pressure on Iraq from the United States and Turkey over certain issues and also make up for the inattention of Arab states to this country during the past decade. Iraq seeks cooperation of Russia in such regional crises as that of Syria every one of which can potentially pose a high security threat to Iraq and endanger its interests and stability.

On the whole, a review of mutual motivations of Iraq and Russia for the expansion of interactions clearly proves that plurality of power sources at international and regional levels under new global conditions, diversity of political players as well as variations in strategic interests and approaches can give birth to different levels of relations among major global political players and powers. In view of the high pace of change and developments in the Middle East, such interactions are quite capable of changing regional equations as a result of forging a new state of balance and encouraging new forms of strategic cooperation.

Key Words: Iraq, Russia, Interaction, Weapons Deal, New Scenarios and Options, Al-Maliki, Multilateralism, ExxonMobil,  Asadi 

More By Ali Akbar Asadi:

*Iraq and the Challenge of Balancing Iran, US Relations: http://www.iranreview.org/content/Documents/Iraq-and-the-Challenge-of-Balancing-Iran-US-Relations.htm

*Barzani - Talabani Coalition and its Challenges: http://www.iranreview.org/content/Documents/Barzani-Talabani-Coalition-and-its-Challenges.htm

*US and Problem of Emerging Independent Allies in the Middle East: http://www.iranreview.org/content/Documents/US-and-Problem-of-Emerging-Independent-Allies-in-the-Middle-East.htm

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