Russia says it is ready to start talking with the U.S. about helping to destroy the remnants of the Islamic State militants in western Iraq.
The comments from a Russian defense official come as Russia claims that ISIS has been defeated in Syria. But U.S. officials say there are still several thousand ISIS fighters remaining and still plenty of work for U.S.-backed fighters in the region to finish off and defeat ISIS.
“We are ready to hold dialogue and join American counterparts in solving this issue” said Russian First Deputy Defense Minister General of the Army Valery Gerasimov, the chief of the general staff, as reported by Russian state news agency TASS.
“The attention of the international counterterrorism coalition should be focused on how to destroy militants in Iraq’s western regions in order to prevent the ISIL comeback to Syria and how to exclude the revival of Islamic Caliphate there, but not on deployment of own military bases in Syria,” Gerasimov said.
The Russian deputy minister further criticized U.S. operations in Syria and claimed it took nearly 11 months for U.S.-backed fighters to liberate Raqqa, and that 90 percent of the city had been destroyed in the effort.
“Contrary to the statements by our Western partners, the operations of the international anti-terror coalition led by the United States have not yielded any considerable successes on the territory of the Syrian Arab Republic,” the general said, according to TASS.
The Raqqa campaign was announced on June 6 by the U.S. partner forces known as the Syrian Democratic Forces, and the city was liberated at just over four months of fighting.
Nevertheless, Russian claims about U.S. operations in the region have been meet with much skepticism by U.S. officials.
“I would say the Russian Ministry of Defense statements are about as accurate as their air campaign,” Col. Ryan Dillon, spokesman for Operation Inherent Resolve, previously told reporters at a televised Pentagon briefing in November. The statements by Dillon were made after the Russian defense ministry posted screen shots of a video game as evidence of U.S. collusion with ISIS fighters.
However, the likelihood of any U.S. military cooperation with Russia in Iraq is low. “Our communication with the Russians, from a DoD standpoint, is limited to deconflicting our operations in Syria to prevent accidents,” said Eric Pahon, a Pentagon spokesperson.
Russian and U.S. military officials use a communications channel on a daily basis to help deconflict ground operations and air space over a tightly congested battlefield. But, there has been no direct military cooperation between Russian and American forces in the region.
But today’s statement by a Russian military official does beg the question of Russian interest in western Iraq.
While ISIS militants lost their last urban stronghold in Iraq after the liberation of al-Qaim and Rawa, the terror group is still holding onto scant territory in the expansive Jazeera desert of the Anbar province.
“The Russians may seek to expand their partnership with Iran and its proxies into Iraq in order to displace the US, further consolidate their own coalition, and dominate the region’s post-ISIS security architecture,” said Jennifer Cafarella, an expert on ISIS at the Institute for the Study of War.
Shawn Snow is the senior reporter for Marine Corps Times and a Marine Corps veteran.