A fantastic turn to the geopolitics of the Middle East is surfacing with the visit by the Iraqi Defence Minister leading a high-level military delegation, including the chief of the country’s air force, to Russia. The disclosure came in a remark in Baghdad — deliberate or unintentional — by an Iraqi legislator to Reuters. The Reuters reported that the Iraqi delegation is negotiating the purchase of Russian “early warning systems, radars and some other civil defence apparatuses.”
The irony couldn’t be deeper. The United States invaded Iraq to bring about a ‘regime change’ and introduce democracy and the empowered government in Baghdad promptly asked the US troops to vacate occupation and now turns to its old cold-war era ally Russia to resuscitate the sinews of military ties. Iraq is today a close friend of Iran. It is supportive of the regime of Bashar Al-Assad in Syria and is helping Damascus in many ways to counter the Western sanctions against Syria. But its ties with Turkey have plummeted and the relations with Saudi Arabia remain frosty.
Suffice to say, this is not the Iraq that the neocons in the US wanted to see ‘empowered’ as the beacon of the so-called ‘New Middle East.’ The only ‘net gain’ in geopolitical terms that Washington can claim today is that Iraq’s military capability has been rendered ineffective, which of course immensely works to Israel’s advantage in the overall strategic balance.
Baghdad’s decision to turn to Moscow for arms purchases needs to be seen essentially against the recent cooling down of Iraq’s relations with Turkey and the United States, which are stepping up their direct dealings with the Kurdistan autonomous region of northern Iraq. The US-Turkish game plan is to strengthen the emergence of Kurdistan as an economically viable political entity in the region which is capable of playing the role of a strategic ally independent of the vagaries of Iraqi policies. Turkey and the US hope that Barzani will act as a ‘factor of stability’ in rolling back Kurdish militancy in eastern Turkey and northern Syria.
Turkey has already in place substantial economic partnership with Barzani including an oil pipeline that leads from Kurdistan to the eastern Mediterranean via Turkey. The US-Kurdistan nexus is apparent from the high attention paid to Barzani by the White House during his April visit to Washington. Big OIl — ExxonMobil and Chevron — have tied up with Barzani, too. Washington simply ignores Baghdad’s protests that its sovereignty is being violated when it directly deals with a region of Iraq, contravening its constitution and laws.
Turkey and the US are acting in tandem. The recent diplomatic row over a visit by the Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davitoglu to Arbil, capital of Kurdistan for a meeting with Barzani shows that the equations between Ankara and Baghdad have touched a low point. But Turkey doesn’t care, since Barzani’s help is needed to disrupt the road communication links between Baghdad and Damascus passing through northern Iraq.
Thus, the Iraqi defence minister’s mission to Moscow evidently has a ‘Turkish angle’. The Turkish air force routinely conducts bombing raids on the Kurdish sanctuaries in northern Iraq. So far, Baghdad kept protesting but could do nothing. Iraq’s purchase of the radars and air defence systems from Russia could change the calculus.
Then, there is also the ‘big picture’, namely, the axis that slowly, steadily shaped up between Iran, Iraq and Syria on the bedrock of shared interests. (Lebanon becomes a natural adjunct to the axis.) The geo-strategic implications of such an axis seeking a close relationship with Russia are at once obvious.
Iraq, needless to say, is potentially one of the richest countries on the planet. And Russia is back in the Iraqi oil fields in a big way as if Saddam Hussein never left. Actually, Russian companies are doing well in the Kurdistan oil fields as well. Gazprom Neft has followed the footsteps of ExxonMobil and Chevron to directly deal with the Kurdistan authorities, bypassing Baghdad.
But, curiously, Moscow is also doing well with the people in Baghdad, as is obvious from the current visit by the Iraqi defence minister to Moscow. Clearly, compared to Soviet-era Iraqi ties, much of it all nowadays is about bizness, as they say in Russian – arms for Baghdad and oil from Kurdistan. Isn’t the US missing something here? This is what exasperates Henry Kissinger to no end – geopolitics without bizness.
– August 4, 2012