After Russian Bombers in Iran, Putin Wants Role in Iraq’s Op to Free Mosul

Shortly after discovering Russian bombers were not only established in a new air base in Iran but already conducting strikes in Syria, the White House and the US Army scrambled to convey the impression that they had been given prior notice of this alarming game-changer.
“It was expected,” said the White House curtly on Aug. 18, while the US Army spokesperson said, “We knew in time – not a lot of time but it was enough.”
They spoke just two days after the Russian Defense Ministry announced that air strikes against Syrian terrorist targets had been performed by Tupolev-22M3 long-range bombers and Sukhoi-34 escort fighters from Nojeh, 50 km west of Hamedan. Photos of the action were also posted. In Tehran, Iranian officials lauded the epic event as marking close strategic cooperation with Moscow.
Washington’s claim of advance knowledge was inaccurate, to say the least. The White House had no knowledge of a Russian air base being constructed in Iran, which corresponded with the Khmeimim air facility they established last year in the western Syrian province of Latakia.
Neither had Tehran informed the Obama administration that Moscow had been granted a permit to set up a virtual ex-territorial air facility in Iran.
The entire project was carried forward behind the backs of the top echelons of the US administration and it caught US intelligence agencies unawares.
To compound the affront, the news was announced by the Russian Defense Ministry when the Russian bombers taking off from Iran were not only in the air but had crossed Iraqi air space and were already over Syria just seconds before dropping their ordnance.
The new base is moreover well protected.
As Debkafile military sources disclosed exclusively on Aug. 16, advanced S-400 and S-300 anti-aircraft missile systems were on their way to the Nojeh airbase, along with Russian radar systems and special Russian forces (Spetsnaz) units.
By late Thursday, Aug. 18, DEBKA Weekly had counted four separate air strikes over different parts of Syria that were conducted by Iran-based Russian bombers.
For the Obama administration, this development is especially galling. The US president might have expected Iran to give America first option for air bases rather than Russia, in the light of the concessions Obama made to Tehran for a nuclear deal, the blind eye he turned to Iran’s program for developing nuclear-capable ballistic missiles and the easing of sanctions which released a flow of 150 billion dollars to the Iranian exchequer.
Meanwhile, Russian President Vladimir Putin is in full swing to take advantage of the element of surprise and US administration inertia in the Middle East, for reaching out for yet another strategic asset at America’s expense.
DEBKA Weekly‘s intelligence sources report exclusively that, while Russian bombers were cutting through Iraqi skies to bomb Syria, Putin was already on the phone to Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi with a proposition.
He suggested that al-Abadi take note of the US performance against ISIS in Syria and the delays in US-backed preparations to free Raqqa from the jihadists and, instead of waiting for America to lead the operation to liberate Mosul and root ISIS out of Iraq, simply hand over the task to the Russian army and its Iranian and Turkish allies.
The Russian president hinted that the Iraqi Prime Minister might find this combination more politically convenient that the US war plan, which hinges on the use of large-scale Kurdish Peshmerga forces in the battle for Mosul.
(The Peshmerga are already in action under US command, fighting ISIS for control of the Khazir and Gwer-Hakmour districts east of Mosul, as part of the plan to dislodge the jihadis from the city’s environs.)
Prime Minister Al-Abadi promised Putin he would give his proposal serious consideration.
Last week, moreover, DEBKA Weekly discovered that Turkey's President Tayyip Erdogan had approached the Iraqi prime minister with a demand to co-opt the Turkish army to the Mosul operation.
Russia and Turkey are squeezing al-Abadi hard to accept Putin's proposition. His acquiescence would hand control of the operation to Moscow, in which case the 10,000-strong US force standing by in Iraq for the offensive would be left without a job. This situation would relegate the US to solo championship of Iraq’s and Syria’s Kurds, a role Washington has consistently evaded.
But above all, by accepting the Putin plan, Baghdad would be obliged to grant the Russians air bases for striking Mosul. And so Moscow would acquire a third regional air base after the first two in Syria and Iran.
This would be in line with Putin’s master plan to plant Russian aerial strength in a chain of bases ranging from the Caspian Sea in eastern Iran, through Iraq to the Mediterranean coast of Syria.

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