BAGHDAD — Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi defended his country's intelligence-sharing agreement with Russia, Syria and Iran on Monday, saying Baghdad needs to share intelligence with these countries and others in order to defeat the Islamic State group.
Iraq's decision to strengthen ties with Syrian President Bashar Assad and his two main allies potentially complicates U.S. efforts to combat the IS group without strengthening regional foes who are also battling the extremists. It comes as Moscow has been ramping up its involvement in Syria in defense of Assad — ferrying weapons, troops and supplies to an airport near the Syrian coastal city of Latakia in what the U.S. sees as preparations for setting up an air base there.
In a televised speech before his departure to attend the U.N. General Assembly, al-Abadi said Iraq welcomed Russia's "recent interest" in battling the IS group.
"During the past three months, there has been an interest by Russia to fight Daesh, as many terrorists who are fighting with it are Russian who would return to Russia to carry out terrorist acts," al-Abadi said, using the Arabic acronym for the IS group. "At the same time, we welcomed that interest by establishing an intelligence cell in which Syria and Iraq participate."
He said that his country will continue to work closely with the U.S.-led coalition that has been bombing the IS group in Syria and Iraq, saying Iraq needs "all the world's intelligence efforts in order to fight, to besiege and to terminate Daesh."
Iraq has long had close ties with neighboring Iran and has coordinated with Tehran in fighting IS — which controls about a third of Iraq and Syria in a self-declared caliphate. Iran has sent military advisers to Iraq and worked closely with Shiite militias battling the IS group.
A U.S.-led coalition has meanwhile been conducting airstrikes against IS in Iraq and Syria as well as training and advising Iraqi forces, but U.S. officials insist they are not coordinating their efforts with Iran. The U.S. also refuses to cooperate with Syrian President Bashar Assad, who Washington has insisted should step down. Russia and Iran have provided crucial support to Assad since Syria's uprising began in 2011.
Hours after announcing the agreement on Sunday, the Baghdad-based spokesman for the U.S.-led campaign against the IS group, Col. Steve Warren, said the U.S. recognizes Iraq's interest in sharing information on IS with other governments, but added that, "We do not support the presence of Syrian government officials who are part of a regime that has brutalized its own citizens."
In New York, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly, said "all of the efforts need to be coordinated. This is not yet coordinated."
"I think we have concerns about how we are going to go forward. That is precisely what we are meeting on to talk about now. Our presidents will be meeting tomorrow," he told reporters, referring to scheduled talks between U.S. President Barack Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin.