Russia, Syria and Iran Set Up Military Coordination Cell in Baghdad

Ben D

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Russia, Syria and Iran Set Up Military Coordination Cell in Baghdad

Sep 25, 2015 | by Lucas Tomlinson and Jennifer Griffin

Russian, Syrian and Iranian military commanders have set up a coordination cell in Baghdad in recent days to try to begin working with Iranian-backed Shia militias fighting the Islamic State, Fox News has learned. Western intelligence sources say the coordination cell includes low-level Russian generals. U.S. officials say it is not clear whether the Iraqi government is involved at the moment.

Describing the arrival of Russian military personnel in Baghdad, one senior U.S. official said, "They are popping up everywhere." The Russians already have been building up their military presence in Syria, a subject expected to factor prominently in a planned meeting between President Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin in New York Monday on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly.
While the U.S. also is fighting the Islamic State, the Obama administration has voiced concern that Russia's involvement, at least in Syria, could have a destabilizing effect.
Moscow, though, has fostered ties with the governments in both Syria and Iraq. In May, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi flew to Moscow for an official visit to discuss potential Russian arms transfers and shared intelligence capability, as well as the enhancement of security and military capabilities, according to a statement by the Iraqi prime minister's office at the time.

Meanwhile, a U.S. official described to Fox News how, over the weekend, the Russians were able to move 24 attack jets into Syria undetected. The Russian military flew 12 Sukhoi Su-25 "Frogfoot" and a dozen Sukhoi Su-24 "Fencer" attack aircraft in "tight formations" under the "steady stream" of the large Russian An-124 cargo planes that have been ferrying supplies from bases in Russia through Iran before traveling on to Syria, the official said.

"The Russian jets did not have the legs to make it directly from Russia to Syria, and needed a base to refuel," said the official, who spoke to Fox News under the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to disclose sensitive information. According to the Aviationist, the Russian cargo planes and fighter jets landed at an airbase in Hamadan, Iran, roughly halfway between Baghdad and Tehran on Sept 18-19. The large cargo planes appeared as "a big blip" on radar, but flying beneath them were "tight formations" of the smaller Russian fighter jets that used jamming pods and switched off their IFF, which would identify the aircraft to radar. The large Russian cargo planes have the capability to fly directly from Russia to Syria, but the smaller attack aircraft do not.