Russia’s Foreign Minister is in Iraq after an important trip to South Africa last month, which may be part of Russia’s attempt to carve out a new world order where Russia believes it can confront the US.
The US occupied Iraq after 2003 and many Americans died in Iraq fighting an insurgency. The US does continue to partner with Iraq against ISIS.
Russia’s decision to send its top diplomat to Iraq is symbolic and important in the Middle East, but in the 1980s and 1990s, Russia was a key partner of Iraq and the old regime of Saddam Hussein.
“Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, who has arrived on a working visit in Iraq, will meet with President Abdul Latif Rashid, Prime Minister Mohammad Shia al-Sudani, speaker of the House of Representatives (parliament) Mohamed al-Halbousi and his Iraqi counterpart, Fuad Hussein, the Russian foreign ministry said on Sunday.”TASS Russian state media
Lavrov is expected to "meet with President Abdul Latif Rashid, Prime Minister Mohammad Shia al-Sudani, speaker of the House of Representatives (parliament) Mohamed al-Halbousi and his Iraqi counterpart, Fuad Hussein," Russia’s state media TASS reported, citing the foreign ministry.
The Russian Foreign Ministry also stated that “the upcoming meetings are expected to focus on key areas of the progressive development of comprehensive Russian-Iraqi ties, including the expansion of political dialogue, the invigoration of trade-and-economic, military-technical and cultural-and-humanitarian cooperation."
What do Iraq and Russia want from each other?
What are the Iraqis talking about to the Russians? The reason is largely due to just business and energy, according to Russian media. They will talk about Russia’s Lukoil and Gazprom and “large-scale projects.” Trade with Iraq is growing, Moscow says.
“It is also planned to discuss ways to preserve the positive dynamics in bilateral trade, including through the implementation of the corresponding resolutions of the Russian-Iraqi commission on trade, economic and scientific cooperation, which held its ninth meeting in Moscow in August 2022,” TASS says. Russia will support the new prime minister of Mohammad al-Sudani “to ensure stability and security in the country.”
There is more to this than just economics and trade though. Russia and Iraq are talking about an exchange of views about Syria “with a focus on the tasks of promoting a comprehensive political settlement in conformity with the UN Security Council resolution, encouraging the country’s post-conflict revival and expanding international humanitarian aid to Damascus.
"It is planned to discuss in detail the situation in the Gulf area, including in the light of Russia’s concept of collective security in the Gulf," the ministry noted.
There is more about Ukraine
"Amid the unprecedented pressure from Western countries, the Iraqi side holds a balanced position on Russia’s special military operation in Ukraine," the Russian ministry said.
Clearly, Russia wants Iraq not only to be on its side and be a source of energy trade, but it wants to show it can swoop into a country where the US was deeply invested for many years and show that Iraq is basically taking Russia’s side in the war on Ukraine.
While the US has friends in Iraq, it is also the case that Iran has deep influence in Iraq.
Iran supplies Russia with drones. There have been many attacks by pro-Iran militias on US forces in Iraq, although those have been reduced in the last year. The US is building a large consulate in northern Iraq’s autonomous Kurdistan region.
At the same time, Russia wants energy ties with the Kurdistan region, but also has close ties with Turkey and wants to work with them, Iran and the Syrian regime. If Russia can somehow undermine the US in Iraq and Syria, it can achieve a major victory in this strategic corridor.
So far, Iraq has not achieved this victory, but it is slowly working towards its goals. It has been working on this goal for thirty years since the decline and fall of the Soviet Union in 1991. Lavrov's visit is not in a vacuum. Moscow knows the history and it hopes to work its way back to where it was in the 1980s in Iraq.
The reference to Syria by the Russian state media is also not an accident. Recently, TASS also had an article highlighting Israel’s views on Syria.
“Israel does not want confrontation with Russia and incidents between military aircraft of both countries in the Syrian airspace, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in an interview with France’s LCI TV Channel,” according to the report.
Russia's state media further noted that "the compromise is satisfactory for Israel and not violating Moscow’s interests was found in relations with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Netanyahu said.”
Moscow’s goal is to show that it is getting what it wants in Syria and Iraq. Syria is a historic Russian client state, and in 2015 Moscow intervened in Syria to back the Syrian regime.
Since then, it has deconflicted with Israel in Syria and also held talks with Iran and Turkey. Russia’s goal is to get Turkey back to normalization with the Syrian regime. Then, its goal is to get the US out of Syria. And then, its goal is to work with Iran to eject the US from Iraq. It is in that context, that the Lavrov visit to Iraq should be understood.