Russia and Iran, along with Iraq and the Syrian government, have agreed to set up a joint information center in Baghdad to coordinate operations against Islamic State militants, Russian media reported Saturday.
The center will serve to gather and analyze intelligence as well as coordinate military strikes against the radical jihadist group, a military diplomatic source told Russia’s Interfax news agency.
According to the report, the center will be headed by an officer of one of the four countries on a three-month rotating basis. Iraqi officials will run the center for the coming three months.
The anonymous source called the new venture “an important step in joint efforts of regional countries in the fight against international terrorism.”
On Friday, the American Fox News outlet reported that Russian, Syrian and Iranian military commanders had set up a “coordination cell” in Baghdad and were working with Iranian-backed Shiite militias fighting the Islamic State.
The information is likely to concern to the US and its allies, which have warned Russian President Vladimir Putin that his country’s rapid recent military buildup in Syria would have a destabilizing effect on the region, and complicate the US-led coalition against Islamic State militants in Iraq.
Over the past month, Russia has been building up its military presence at an airbase in Syria, including fighter jets, tanks, helicopters, air defense missiles, personnel and other equipment.
Russia is a longtime ally of Syria and has supported its president, Bashar Assad, who has clung to power throughout a brutal four-year civil war and despite US-led efforts to force him to step down.
Moscow has denied that it is building up its presence in Syria to protect its longtime ally, rather maintaining that it wishes to help Assad fight the Islamic State group, which has carved out a self-declared caliphate in parts of Syria and Iraq, and engaged in the mass-slaughter of various groups.
Rebuffing potential criticism over the information center, Russia’s Colonel-General Leonid Ivashov said the joint venture was the result of prior bilateral agreements, and was not in violation of international law.
“Certain coordination of military actions, especially between Syria, Russia and Iran, was planned. Now, the functions have been distributed, and that can be called kind of an operative planning headquarters,” Ivashov told Interfax.
He said the the role of Russia and Iran would be to form “recommendations regarding specific military actions to the countries at war: Iraq and Syria.” Ivashov also dismissed US-led efforts to dismantle the jihadist group.
“We should pay less attention to the Americans. The right to individual and collective defense is allowed by the UN Charter. Everyone understands that all this story against Syria and Iraq was started by the Americans and they are unlikely to help with anything,” he said.
The reports come just two days before Putin is to address the United Nations’ General Assembly in New York. He is expected to lay out his views on Syria, and propose a broader effort to combat the Islamic State.