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Iraq’s al-Abadi Can’t Stop Russian Planes Flying through Iraq to Syria

Sept. 14, 2015 (EIRNS)—Further confirmation that Russian cargo flights to Syria are flying across Iran and Iraq comes from the New York Times, which reports that these flights are "causing" further "tensions" with the United States, not only for Russia, but also for the government of Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi in Baghdad. Unnamed U.S. officials said yesterday that at least seven AN-124 cargo planes (each of which can carry about up to 150 tons of cargo) have flown to Latakia via the Iran-Iraq route in the past week.

The Russian adoption of this route came after the United States prevailed on Bulgaria to close its airspace to Russian flights to Syria. In addition to Bulgaria and Greece, the United States also approached Iraq on Sept. 5 about closing its airspace to Russian flights. Iraqi officials said they would "look into the matter," but have not acted. Iraqi Prime Minister Haidi al-Abadi has a complicated political problem, however, which will probably prevent him from acceding to the U.S. demand. "In the discourse of Iraqi politics, forcing Abadi to side with the U.S. against Assad is like realigning him with the Sunni axis against the Shi’a one," says Ramzy Mardini, a nonresident fellow at the Atlantic Council.

The Russian military deployment in Syria also opens up a different crucial issue between the United States and Russia, one that was already raised by Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, last week, that of military contacts between U.S. Central Command and the Russian military. Centcom public affairs chief Col. Patrick Ryder confirmed as much to reporters at the Pentagon on Sept. 11.

Some argue, however, that the United States should accept Russia’s military presence in Syria as a fait accompli and act to prevent any unintended incidents.

"It is very dangerous to have both Russian and U.S. troops in a confined battle space, essentially on opposite sides of a civil war, without contact for deconfliction of any combat or support activities,"

former NATO commander Adm. James Stavridis told Defense One. "Open communication at the strategic and tactical level are both important." Stavridis noted that the U.S. and Soviet navies had such contacts during the Cold War, in order to avoid accidental, escalatory encounters. "We will need similar dialogue, and possibly such protocols, to avoid incidents in Syria," he said.