Moscow ready to supply weapons to Iraq to help fight ISIS

Reuters / Stringer
Moscow and Baghdad have been expanding military cooperation, President Vladimir Putin said, and Russia is ready to supply weapons to Iraq to aid the fight against Islamic State militants’ advance in the region, said Russia’s FM Sergey Lavrov.

“We will make all efforts to meet [Iraq’s] possible requests, to ensure it has the defense capability and the ability to drive out of its territories Islamic State [formerly ISIS, or ISIL] and other terrorists," Lavrov told reporters, speaking ahead of talks in Moscow between Putin and Iraqi Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi on Thursday.

"We have very close and tight military-technical cooperation [with Iraq]," he said.

“Unlike some other countries, we are ready to supply weapons to Iraq without preconditions, based on the fact that Iraq, Syria and Egypt are on the forefront of the struggle against terrorism.”

READ MORE: ISIS claims full control of Ramadi after Iraqi troops abandon positions (VIDEO)

Iraq has been Russia's longtime partner and over the past two years bilateral trade turnover has grown 10-fold, Putin said at the meeting with Iraq's PM on Thursday.

"Iraq has been our longtime and reliable partner in the region. Despite all the hardships in the world economy and difficulties in the region, our relations have been developing successfully," Putin said.

Putin said that Russia has been implementing major projects in Iraq and Russian investments there are estimated at billions of dollars. He added that Moscow will continue civilian, military and technical cooperation with Iraq.

Islamic State advances

In a major setback, Iraqi forces have retreated from a compound they used as a command center in Ramadi, losing control of Anbar’s provincial capital to Islamic State militants. Local security officials said that the militants carried out mass killings of Iraqi security forces and civilians, AP reported Monday. The two days of fighting in Ramadi this weekend had displaced around 8,000 people according to the International Organization for Migration.

In another development, IS has taken over a strategic crossing between Syria and Iraq, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group reported on Thursday.

Syrian security forces withdrew from the al-Tanf border after the IS advance. In response, Iraqi forces also withdrew from their side of the border, known as al-Waleed.

READ MORE: ISIS fighters enter ruins of ancient Palmyra after taking full control of city - reports

The crossing is located in Syria’s Homs province, where IS militants captured Syria’s historic city of Palmyra, a UNESCO landmark, on Wednesday after gaining full control of the city. The group already controls wide areas in Syria's north and east. This was the first time the jihadists have taken a large population center directly from Syrian pro-government forces.

Despite the IS advance in Iraq and Syria, the Pentagon has until recently continued to insist that the US-led air campaign is working.

“We believe across Iraq and Syria that Daesh [the Arabic acronym for the militant group] is losing and remains on the defensive,” said Marine Brig. Gen. Thomas D. Weidley, chief of staff for Combined Joint Task Force Operation Inherent Resolve on Friday.

The US began its bombing campaign in Iraq in August 2014 and in Syria the following month. Syrian President Bashar Assad repeatedly pointed out that the bombardments are an illegal intervention unauthorized by a UN Security Council resolution, and so violate the sovereignty of Syria. He also said that the Syrian army has been conducting ground operations as well as airstrikes against terrorists which are larger than that those launched by the alliance.

READ MORE: Disturbing footage of ISIS punishing own fighters for smoking

In a separate development, the Pentagon said Thursday that the US will deliver 2,000 AT-4 anti-tank rockets to Iraq as soon as next week. This is double the number announced on Wednesday and is intended to help the beleaguered Iraqi army combat suicide car bombings used by Islamic State.

The IS carried out about 30 suicide car bombings in taking the Iraqi city of Ramadi last weekend. Spokesman Colonel Steve Warren said that the anti-tank rockets would help the Iraqi army stop approaching suicide bombers, driving vehicles packed with explosives, from a distance. Relying on small arms fire to accomplish the same task requires killing the driver or taking out the engine.