Iraq–Russia relations

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Iraq–Russia relations
Map indicating locations of Iraq and Russia

Iraq

Russia

Iraq–Russia relations (Russian: Российско–иракские отношения, Arabic: العلاقات الروسية العراقية‎) is the bilateral relationship between Iraq and Russia and, prior to Russia's independence, between Iraq and the Soviet Union.

History[edit]

Relations between Russians and the people of Iraq long predate the formation of the modern Iraqi and Russian states. In the Middle Ages, merchants and explorers travelled between the two countries using the Volga trade route and Caspian Sea, and then overland. According to ibn Khordadbeh, already in the 9th century one could encounter Rus merchants in the markets of Baghdad, to which they brought beaver and fox pelts, and swords.[1][2]

In the modern era, Soviet-Iraqi and, later, Russian-Iraqi relations have been generally part and parcel of their relations with the Third World countries and their national liberation movements, particularly Arab nationalism, which for both historical and geostrategic reasons has been especially important for Moscow. However, at the same time, particularly between 1958 and 1990, Soviet-Iraqi relations were marked by some special features,[3] putting them in contrast with Soviet links with other Afro-Asian nations and even some states of the Arab Middle East.

  • Iraq was, first of all, the closest of all the Arab nations to Soviet borders and, because of that proximity the threat of Soviet expansion, could have been seen as being much more realistic and likely by its leaders, as compared with the leaders of the other Arab states.
  • Although different from the other Arab states of the Mashreq, Iraq, since its very beginning in the 1920s, contained a substantial (close to twenty-five percent) ethnic non-Arab Kurdish minority with specific constitutional rights, which were granted in 1925 as a condition for the incorporation of the largely Kurdish populated Mosul region into its borders.[3] The Kurdish people, other groups of which live in Turkey, Iran and Russia, have never completely submitted to their division and lack of national self-determination, and have constantly demanded territorial autonomy in Iraq since 1961. Their aspirations towards which the Soviet Union could not remain indifferent, were, however, putting the nation in the awkward situation of having to make a choice between their recognition and general support of Arab nationalism and the friendly Iraqi government.
  • The Iraqi Communist Party, which was formally founded in 1934, was one of the most effective and socially influential Marxist organizations in the region.[3] Although it was never powerful enough to seize power by itself, it nevertheless represented a by-no-means negligible political force in the country, supporting Moscow after 1958, both a valuable asset and an embarrassment in its deals with the "progressive" but still often viciously anti-communist Iraqi government.
  • Finally, Iraq's economic potential and relative wealth, especially after the 1973 October War and the subsequent and substantial rise of oil prices, made the state a financially attractive partner and customer for Moscow.[3] These economic aspects, which had never been absent in the past, have acquired additional importance since the collapse of the USSR and the emergence of Russia as a separate and pro-capitalist nation.

Post-Soviet Russia, although having rejected Marxist ideology and the ideological support of the Communist parties and the national liberation movements of Third World peoples, is nevertheless still interested in cooperation with Iraq, and has supported Baghdad politically against the United States since 1994, including the imposing of punitive sanctions.[3]

Iraq–Soviet Union relations[edit]

The Soviet Union established diplomatic relations with the Kingdom of Iraq on 9 September 1944.[4] The regime of King Faisal II was anti-communist, and established links with Moscow due its dependence on the United Kingdom and the Anglo–Soviet Treaty of 1942. In January 1955, the Soviet government criticised the Iraqi government decision to join the Baghdad Pact, which led to Iraq cutting diplomatic relations with the Soviets. After Faisal II was overthrown in a military coup on 14 July 1958, the newly proclaimed Republic of Iraq led by General Abd al-Karim Qasim re-established relations with the Soviet Union, and the Soviet Union began selling arms to Baghdad.[3][4]

Since then, for about forty years until the Gorbachev perestroika in the late 1980s, Soviet-Iraqi cooperation was both close and multi-faceted, and for most of the period it was even officially called a "strategic partnership". In 1967, Iraq signed an agreement with the USSR to supply the nation with oil in exchange for large-scale access to Eastern Bloc arms.[5] In 1972, Egypt ordered the Soviet military personnel in the country to leave and Iraq soon became one of the Soviet Union's closest allies in the Middle East.[6] During this time, the USSR and Iraq had signed a Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation in which both countries promised to help each other under threat and to avoid entering hostile alliances against one another.[7]

However, this did not mean that during all that time their mutual relations had always been equally friendly and without serious political differences. As an American scholar indicated, because of their support of the national-liberation movements, a number of important Third World countries, including Iraq, "declared their friendship for and improved relations with the USSR and sided with it on a number of international problems". In no instance, however, did their leaders "compromise their own national interests or become Soviet stooges."[3] Baghdad's interest in cooperation with Moscow "was based on the need for a powerful patron in its efforts to shed all the remnants of Western colonialism and to establish Iraq as an autonomous member of the world order of nation states."[3] At the same time, however, the Iraqi "ruling elite had shown stubborn resistance towards anything which could be regarded as an intrusion into the country's internal affairs or as an infringement upon Iraq's sovereignty over its international policies."[3]

Iraqi occupation of Kuwait[edit]

The Soviet Union was critical of Saddam Hussein's 2 August 1990 invasion and occupation of Kuwait, and supported a United Nations resolution authorizing the use of military force, if necessary, to enforce an arms embargo against Iraq. But the Soviet Union's military support for Hussein also drew substantial criticism from the United States and other Western countries. In Washington, D.C., the Heritage Foundation foreign policy experts Jay P. Kosminsky and Michael Johns wrote on 30 August 1990 that, "While condemning the Iraqi invasion, Gorbachev continues to assist Saddam militarily. By Moscow's own admission, in an 22 August official press conference with Red Army Colonel Valentin Ogurtsov, 193 Soviet military advisors still are training and assisting Iraq's one million-man armed forces. Privately, Pentagon sources say that between 3,000 and 4,000 Soviet military advisors may be in Iraq."[8]

After the dissolution of the Soviet Union in December 1991 the newly independent Russian Federation and the Republic of Iraq established diplomatic relations and maintained military and economic ties. Russia had strongly opposed the UN sanctions maintained on Iraq after the Persian Gulf War and called on the UN to lift it. But the United States had strongly refused to support any lifting of the sanctions. Russia had strongly opposed the Iraq War and had refused to support military action against Iraq. President Vladimir Putin called it a serious mistake and said that only the United Nations can solve this dispute. He also said that the U.S.-U.K. military action ran counter to international opinion.[9] Nevertheless Russia still refused to meet with CPA administrator Paul Bremer and only met with members of the Iraqi Governing Council instead.[10] But Russia only came to assist Iraq after the Coalition Provisional Authority was disbanded and a new Iraqi government took power. On 7 December 2004 Russian president Vladimir Putin met with Iraqi interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi and both countries pledged to cooperate on terrorism and to strengthen ties.[11] On 14 September 2005, Vladimir Putin met with Iraqi President Jalal Talabani. Mr Talabani called on Russia to assist Iraq and he maintained the strong ties that existed between Russia and Iraq since the Soviet Union.[12]

Former Deputy Undersecretary of Defense for International Technology Security John A. Shaw who was responsible for tracking Saddam Hussein's weapons programs before and after the 2003 invasion of Iraq, stated in October 2004, March 2005, and again in February 2006 that it was the Russians who helped Saddam Hussein to "clean up" his weapons of mass destruction stockpiles "to prevent the United States from discovering them." [13] In particular, on 18 February 2006, Shaw told a conference at The Intelligence Summit in Alexandria, Virginia, that "The short answer to the question of where the WMD Saddam bought from the Russians went was that they went" to Syria and the Beqaa Valley in Lebanon, Kenneth R. Timmerman reported 19 February 2006, in NewsMax. "They were moved by Russian Spetsnaz (special forces) units out of uniform, that were specifically sent to Iraq to move the weaponry and eradicate any evidence of its existence," Shaw said. After accusing Russian GRU of helping Saddam to remove his WMD, Shaw was asked to resign for "exceeding his authority" in disclosing the information, a charge he called "specious." Shaw was forced out of office when his position was eliminated on 10 December 2004.[8], [9]. Shaw stated that he went public with his comments regarding Russia moving Iraq's WMD when he did to help George W. Bush who he felt was being "crucified" by the revelations that over 350 tons of explosives had gone missing in Iraq as a result of the U.S. invasion [10]. He said "If I had not had the openly hostile environment in [Pentagon public affairs], I would have moved the story differently. Getting the truth out instantly was more important than process." American Neoconservative commentators have also accused Russia of suppling weapons to the Iraqi insurgents.

Both Russia and Iraq had strongly opposed the 2008-2009 Israel-Gaza conflict and both harshly condemned Israeli actions. On 12 April 2009 Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki became the first Iraqi leader to visit Russia since 1981. This visit was seen by many as way to diversify Iraq's reliance on the United States and also to get new partners.[14] During the meeting the Russian leadership strongly opposed Kurdish separatism and supported the territorial integrity of Iraq. On 12 December 2009 the Russian oil firm Lukoil won a contract to develop the oil fields of West Qurna-2. Lukoil will also be joined by the Norwegian oil firm Statoil. This is the first time that a Russian company will join in the bid for Iraq's oil. The contract with Lukoil was cancelled in 2002.[15] The following day the Russian Gas monopoly Gazprom also won a contract to develop in the oil field of Badra near the Iranian border.[16]

See also[edit]

External links[edit]

References[edit]