Russia and Iran Are Arming the Iraqi PMU Militia with Combat Helicopters
Russia and Iran are tightening their military partnership in Syria in support of their new military collaboration in Iraq. DEBKA Weekly’s military and intelligence sources report that Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu, one of President Vladimir Putin’s closest advisers, has been put in charge of Russian preparations for its next Middle East foray, military intervention in Iraq. And Gen. Qassem Soleimani, head of the Revolutionary Guards al-Qods arm, who is supreme commander of Iranian forces in Middle East war arenas, is again a frequent visitor to Moscow, just as he was before Russia’s 2015 intervention in Syria.
In Iraq, Soleimani has still more to offer Moscow than he had in Syria. His old pal, Hadi al-Amiri, head of the Badr Brigades and supreme leader of the Iraqi PMU Shiite militia coalition, is successfully cultivating Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi. Together they have set up the Victory Coalition in Iraq along with another of Soleimani’s pawns, Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, the PMU’s military commander, who is secretly an Iranian Revolutionary Guards general. But two days later there was a setback. Abadi appeared to have second thoughts. (See separate article on this.)
The discussions going back and forth between Moscow and Tehran in preparation for the big Russian move into Iraq have generated two initial military steps:
One: They are countering the American “Border Security Force” for northern Syria, which relies mainly on Kurdish fighters, with a new Shite Rapid Deployment Force in southern Iraq. The first 5,000 are already in combat training in Syria, having been drawn from two elite Iraqi Shiite militias: The Nujaba of Kaabil (movement of the Party of God), headed by Sheikh Akram al-Kaabi, which consists of the Ammar ibn Yasir Brigade; the Liwa al-Hamad Brigade; the Liwa al-Imam al-Hassan al-Mujtaba Brigade (Imam al-Hassad the Chosen) and the Golan Liberation Brigade.
The second militia, Abu al-Fadi al-Abbas Forces, was formed after the Islamic State seized Iraqi territory in June 2014. One of its leaders was once allied with the powerful Shiite cleric, Muqtada al-Sadr.
Two: Russian and Iranian Air Force officers are working on a new air combat arm that will be attached to the Shiite Rapid Deployment Force units deployed to Syria. They are calling it the Combat Helicopters Directorates. Those units are to be armed with 100 Russian Military Mil (NATO-coded MI-17), Mi-8M and Iranian Shahed 285 assault and transport copters. This is the first time that a Shiite militia fighting in the Middle East will have its own helicopter unit.
It is the outcome of one of the lessons the Russians and Iranians learned from their experiences in the Syria civil war, our military sources note. Syrian government forces and their allied Hizballah and Iranian-backed Shiite militias were often held back from performing important combat missions until they were assured of Russian air support. Having its own helicopter unit, will enable the Iraqi militia to operate autonomously on the battlefield and relieve Moscow of having to intervene in military operations in which it has no interest.
This new arm in the hands of the Russian-Iranian proxy militia is causing extreme disquiet in Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Israel. While it only has helicopters, this militia will still be able to conduct low-altitude strikes and cause plenty of damage by strikes over Syrian and Iraqi borders.