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Iraq turns to Russia, Iran and Syria in ISIS fight

| Monday, Sept. 28, 2015, 12:01 a.m.
REUTERS
Iraqi Army soldiers fire warning shots to discourage Islamic State militants from approaching their position in the Karma district of Anbar province, September 27, 2015. REUTERS/Stringer

BAGHDAD — Iraq plans to set up a joint intelligence-sharing hub with Syria, Iran and Russia to fight the Islamic State, officials said, a move that could further sideline the United States in the battle against the extremist group.

The center in Baghdad will open “in weeks, maybe less,” Nasir Nouri Mohammed, a spokesman for the Iraqi Defense Ministry, said Sunday after the announcement of a security and intelligence pact linking the four countries.

The deal is the latest indication of expanding Russian influence in the region as Moscow embarks on a major buildup of troops and military assets along the Syrian coast. A larger role in Iraq could come at the expense of U.S. clout, with Washington struggling to compete with Iran for influence on the battlefield.

Efforts to push back terrorists in Iraq have virtually stalled, with U.S.-backed troops around Ramadi, the capital of Anbar province, apparently unable to make any significant progress in retaking the city from the Islamic State. Despite a $1.3 billion train-and-equip program for Iraqi forces, Iraqi officials complain that assistance has been slow compared with support from Iran and Russia.

“The decision was taken to share intelligence because all these four countries are involved in fighting terrorism,” Mohammed said. It would not change Iraq's cooperation with other countries and the U.S.-led coalition to fight the Islamic State, he said.

The leadership of the command center will be rotated every three months among the four countries involved, Mohammed said, adding that it would be limited to sharing intelligence.

However, citing an unnamed military source, the Russian news agency Interfax reported that a committee for “planning operations and controlling armed forces units” fighting Islamic State terrorists may be developed.

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