Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov visited Baghdad on Thursday for talks with senior Iraqi officials, including Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, that focused on weapons sales and Syria.
The visit, which follows a meeting between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Egyptian army chief Abdel Fattah al-Sisi last week, may point to increased efforts by Moscow to expand ties with Middle Eastern countries with which Washington has had close relations.
Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari said during a joint news conference with Lavrov that Russia had promised “to accelerate the urgent process of delivering weapons to help Iraqi forces in their confrontation with uncontrolled terrorism, which comes from the Syrian border to our provinces in the western area.”
The issue was a major part of discussions between Lavrov and Maliki, he said.
Iraq shares a long border with Syria, where rebels are battling forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad in a civil war that has claimed more than 140,000 lives since its outbreak in 2011.
The conflict has contributed to a year-long surge in violence in Iraq to levels not seen since 2008, when the country was just emerging from a brutal period of sectarian killings.
Lavrov sharply criticised America’s Syria policy during the news conference, saying in remarks translated from Russian to Arabic that it “encourages extremists who are financing terrorism and supplying terrorist organisations and groups with weapons.”
Lavrov’s visit comes after peace talks between the Syrian government and opposition cosponsored by Russia and the United States broke off last week with no date set for a third round.
Washington has accused Moscow — one of the main backers of Damascus — of not doing enough to make sure the Assad regime is fully committed to the talks, a charge Russia has rejected.
The issue of weapons deliveries provides an opening in both Iraq and Egypt for Russia to make gains in diplomatic and military ties, a situation the two Arab countries could also use as leverage with Washington.
Iraqi officials have been angered by delays in the delivery of some US weapons due to concerns over potential abuses, while Egypt has also been hit by the suspension of some American aid after the military’s overthrow of the country’s democratically-elected president last year.