Frustrated by what they see as the U.S.'s failure to defeat ISIS militants who have seized as much as one-third of the country, some Iraqi civilians want Russia to start bombing their soil. Moscow began launching airstrikes in neighboring Syria last month, supporting President Bashar Assad in a complex civil war against ISIS extremists and other rebel groups.
Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi — who has seen large swaths of his country and Syria overrun by ISIS — said last week he would "consider" and "welcome" Russian airstrikes alongside those by the U.S.-led coalition.
Iraq's government and powerful Iranian-backed militias question the United States' resolve in fighting ISIS militants, alleging the U.S.-led coalition's airstrikes are ineffective. Besides, after the 2003 U.S. invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein, subsequent civil war and the Western coalition's withdrawal, few expected to see the American military return in any form.
"I believe that [Russia] can do what the Americans could not," said Ali Hussein Al-Obaidi, a 42-year-old who owns a mini-supermarket in Baghdad. "The Russians are serious in fighting terrorism in Syria and Iraq because they know exactly the danger behind these terrorists," he added. "If Russia leaves the terrorists free … they will go in the future to Russia and cause trouble."
Majority Shiite-Muslim Iraq last month said it had begun sharing security and intelligence information with Russia, Iran and Syria. Iran is also majority Shiite, and Syria is ruled by the Assad regime, who are members of a Shiite sect called the Alawites. ISIS militants fighting to overthrow the governments in Iraq and Syria follow an extreme and hard-line version of Sunni Islam.
Most Iraqis would welcome Russian intervention, no matter their religion or sect, according to Ahmed Al-Abyadh, founder of Iraq's Kafa (Enough) independent protest movement. Despite the U.S. and others alleging that Russia has been bombing more moderate rebels in Syria rather than ISIS targets, Al-Abyadh believes coordinated attacks between Washington and Moscow in Iraq would "defeat ISIS within few months."
Like Shiites, many Sunnis find ISIS repellent, and would also support a Russian intervention despite having "their own concerns about it," Al-Abyadh added. According to Hussam Abdullah Mohammed, a Sunni secondary school teacher in Baghdad who would support Russian bombing, this apprehensiveness stems from "the role of Iran [which is] supporting the Assad regime [in Syria]."
"The Russians are seizing the opportunity now, the opportunity of the Americans failing to defeat ISIS," he said. At the heart of it, many Iraqis don't see any problem in having the U.S. and Russia bombing ISIS side by side — as long as it gets rid of the extremists. "What is wrong with having both powers here in Iraq, Russia and America?" asked 41-year-old Ibrahim Sa'ad Ali, a government employee in the ministry for communication.
Like many Iraqis, he is anxious to find any solution that rids Iraq of ISIS, a scourge that has overrun large parts of the country, killing and displacing millions of civilians. "I would put my hands in the hands of the devil in order to get rid of ISIS," he said. On Wednesday, the head of the Iraqi parliament's defense and security committee went further, saying Moscow should have a "bigger role" than the United States in battling the militants.
"After a whole year, Daesh is still growing and thousands of fighters are still flowing to both Iraq and Syria and it is controlling more areas," leading Shiite politician Hakim al-Zamili told Reuters, using another name for ISIS. "That's clear evidence the United States has no clear plan or a real strategy."
by ALEXANDER SMITH