EXCLUSIVE: 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.
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.Iranian Quds Force commander Qassem Soleimani also was spotted in Baghdad on Sept 22. He met with Shia militias backed by Iran; intelligence officials believe he met with Russians as well.
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 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.
Full article: Russians, Syrians and Iranians setting up military coordination cell in Baghdad (Fox News)