Although Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford, Chairman of the Joint US Chiefs of Staff, had come to Iraq on an “important visit” Tuesday, Oct. 20, his C-17 aircraft was forced to circle overhead for two hours waiting for permission to land at the Al Taqaddum air base near Baghdad.
The airbase control tower first informed the C-17 cockpit that unspecified conditions on the ground did not permit landing and they would be notified when conditions cleared.
But notification never materialized even after repeated requests for landing permission.
Dunford landed about half an hour later than planned in Irbil, capital of the semiautonomous republic of Iraqi Kurdistan, after his military aircraft was rerouted by air traffic controllers in Baghdad.
This episode recalled another pointed insult directed at a top US official not long ago. In June 2014, US Secretary of State John Kerry was kept cooling his heels for six hours in the waiting room of the Saudi royal palace before King Abdullah deigned to receive him.
For his first Middle East trip since his appointment, America’s top soldier found he had stepped into a strange landscape.
First snub when US top soldier prevented landing in Baghdad
DEBKA Weekly’s military and intelligence report that the Russian-Iranian-Iraqi-Syrian military coordination center established in the Green Zone of Baghdad earlier this month is operating as a full-scale combined command with authority to regulate flights in Iraqi air space.
It was this center which refused to clear Gen. Dunford’s C-17 to land.
But the campaign of snubs was not over. .
On Oct. 20, the US general played down the chances of Iraq asking Russia to run an air campaign against the Islamic State in Iraq in the near future as “no longer in play.” He asserted that “even in Baghdad, the Russians were not believed to be ready to conduct any substantial air missions.”
Two days later, the Iraqi government authorized Russia to target Daesh convoys coming from Syria after coordination with Russia, Iran and Syria.
Hakem al-Zamli, chairman of the Iraqi parliament’s security and defense committee, commended the step as helping to weaken the Islamic State by cutting off its supply routes.
What official Iraqi spokesmen omitted to reveal was that their government had granted the Russian Air Force use of the Al Taqaddum Airbase at Habbaniyah, 74 km west of Baghdad, for mounting air strikes. Moscow was earlier allocated by Bashar Assad the use of the Al-Hmeineem air base near the coastal Syrian town of Latakia.
Prime Minister Abadi obeys “Security Quartet”
Vladimir Putin has thus gained an overarching presence in the two beleaguered countries.
According to some sources in Baghdad, Abadi has handed over to Moscow much more than an air base. They say that some state decisions attributed to the prime minister were actually authored by Iran’s Gen. Qassem Soleimani, the Al Qods Brigades chief, who officiates as senior coordinator of Iranian and Russian military operations in Syria and Iraq.
Since his appointment, Soleimani is constantly flitting in and out of Moscow, Latakia and Baghdad.
The Iraqi air base shortens the distance Russian bombers must cover to hit ISIS concentrations in northern Iraq. But more significantly, Moscow’s military intervention is elbowing the US and its forces out of their positions in the region.
The Russians are making no bones about their triumphal return to Baghdad twelve years after they were kicked out by the US invasion of April 6, 2003 to overthrow Saddam Hussein.
Both Washington and Moscow prefer to forget that three weeks later, US fighter jets strafed the Russian Ambassador Vladimir Titorenko’s convoy, which was also carrying to safety members of the Russian intelligence rezidentura in Iraq, its deep-cover double agents and documentation covering the entire range of military and intelligence collaboration between Iraq and the US.
Ironically, some of those Iraqi double agents are now serving ISIS forces fighting the Russians in Syria.
Russia’s return to Iraq transforms Mid East power balance
Moscow’s return to Baghdad transforms the Middle East positions of the United States, Russia and Iran in five respects:
1. A brand-new Russian military, air and naval edifice now stands foursquare in the Middle East designed to present all other military forces working in the two countries with no option other than to maintain operational liaison with its command headquarters – either at the Al-Hmeineem air base in Syria or the combined “Security Quartet” command center in Baghdad.
The coordination and hot line arrangements the US, Israel, Turkey and Jordan set up with Moscow have, in a word, evolved into their recognition of Russia’s resuscitated military role in the region, as well as the Russian-Iranian-Iraqi-Syrian axis, however much they dislike the notion.
2. Washington is striving to convey the impression that cooperation with Moscow in the campaign against ISIS is in its infancy. In actual fact, the Russians are running ahead. Sources in Iraq’s parliamentary security committee report “intensive” Russian flights in all strategic parts of the country. They say the “Security Quartet” in Baghdad is “very active.”
One source commented with satisfaction, “We could not have cleaned Baiji of ISIL without the help of the new intelligence center which includes the Russians.”
DEBKA Weekly reported previously that Iranian forces fought a long, unsuccessful battle to dislodge ISIS from this important refinery city.
US forces move out, replaced by Russians
3. Middle East sources monitoring the battlefields of Iraq have discovered some of the US officers and Special Operations units engaged in operations for recovering Baiji, Ramadi and Anbar, had either exited the country or pulled back to other areas, mainly the semiautonomous Kurdish Republic in northern Iraq.
Russian officers and forces have moved in to take their place.
However, if Russian aircraft start bombing ISIS targets in Iraq, the US military will rethink its presence there, Top US soldier Gen. Dunford warned Tuesday.
4. The Russians are also lobbying Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and the UAE, for stronger military ties, making inroads on these American spheres of influence.
5. Vladimir Putin has already reaped valuable dividends from its intervention in Syria – and latterly Iraq:
- Russia has made itself the military protector of Iran’s land bridge to Syria and the Lebanese Hizballah.
- A Russian military foothold is established firmly on two strategic coasts – the eastern Mediterranean and the northern Persian Gulf.
- Russian forces now stand directly opposite the frontiers of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Jordan.
- They are a short step from the region’s primary oil fields.
- Iraq shares frontiers with the Caspian and southern Russian regions. By establishing a military presence there, Moscow has gained a highly prized asset for its counterterrorism and military campaigns in the Muslim republics of the Caucasus and southern Russia.