Iraqi militia leader visits Moscow to secure air defence systems
A leading figure in Iraq's Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF), a collection of mostly Shia militias also known as the Hashd al-Shaabi, arrived in Moscow on Monday evening for an undisclosed visit on military matters.
Falih Alfayyadh's visit is aimed at strengthening relations between the two sides, his office said in a statement. But sources told The New Arab that in his visit to Moscow Alfayyadh aims to secure Russian air defence systems for Iraq.
The visit comes as Iraq's government prepares to submit a complaint to the UN, after it found Israel to have "certainly" been behind several attacks on Hashd al-Shaabi bases in recent weeks.
Russia has reportedly pledged support for the Iraqi air forces after Israel bombarded military bases belonging to the Shia militia forces.
Alfayyadh did not announce his visit to Moscow before he arrived.
"Fayyad met the Secretary of the Security Council of the Russian Federation, Nikolai Patrushev, in a joint meeting in Moscow that included a number of officials of the military-technical cooperation sectors, and a number of officials of other joint cooperation sectors between the two countries," his office said in a statement.
Alfayyadh is due to meet the Russian special envoy to Syria, Alexander Lavrentiyev, on Tuesday.
An Iraqi government official told The New Arab that Alfayyadh's visit to Russia was in coordination with one made by Iraqi Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi, and that he would discuss the possibility of Russia providing Iraq with air defence systems.
Iraq's parliamentary speaker announced Moscow's assistance to Iraq last week after his meeting with the Russian ambassador in Baghdad.
Mohammed Halbousi said the meeting with Maxim Maksimov, was "to strengthen joint cooperation in various fields, as well as strengthening the role of parliamentary diplomacy".
Local media in Iraq quoted the Russian ambassador as saying Moscow is keen to support Iraq in the UN Security Council in order to increase its air defence capabilities.
This comes a week after both Russia and the US reportedly gave Israel the green light to bomb Iran-linked Hashd al-Shaabi targets in Iraq.
Analysts say Russia's dubious role of endorsing Israel bombing Hashd al-Shaabi targets, whilst pledging to help defend the militia by propping up Iraq's air forces is further evidence of Russia's mysterious role in the Middle East.
Russia is known to be close to both Israel and Iran.
The PMF was established in 2014 from mostly-Shia armed groups and volunteers to fight the Islamic State group and is now formally part of Iraq's armed forces.
But the US and Israel fear some units are an extension of their arch-foe Iran and have been equipped with precision-guided missiles that could reach Israel.
Agencies contributed to this report.
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