At this point, it’s become difficult to keep track of the myriad embarrassments Washington has suffered since the start of Russian airstrikes in Syria.
There’s the Russian Defense Ministry’s daily video series depicting strikes on “terrorist” targets which makes the US look incredibly inept given how little “coalition” bombing runs have accomplished over the course of more than a year.
There’s Iran’s overt involvement on the ground which is a slap in the face for Washington as it comes just a two months after the conclusion of the nuclear deal.
And let’s not forget about the fact that thanks to the terribly convoluted strategy Washington has attempted to implement whereby the US will i) provide behind the scenes support for Sunni extremist groups in Syria, ii) provide public support for Iran-backed Shiite militias fighting Sunni extremists in Iraq, iii) send weapons to Syrian rebels who are fighting the very same Shiite militias at Aleppo, America is literally trying to say that if you’re a Sunni extremist, you’re a friend if you’re in Syria but an enemy in Iraq and if you’re a Shiite militia, you’re a friend in Iraq but an enemy in Syria.
Through it all, we’ve said that the ultimate humiliation would be for Russia to essentially kick the US out of Iraq. Make no mistake, the conditions are ripe for Moscow to simply muscle Washington out of the way in the country the US claims it “liberated” a little over a decade ago.
There are two main reasons why it will be easy for the Russians to move in, i) Baghdad sees that Moscow is serious about bombing ISIS and the US, for whatever reason, isn't and ii) Iran essentially controls the Iraqi army and Iraqi politics.
In short, this would simply be a sequel to the Russian-Iranian military operation in Syria and the logistics are already in place as Iran’s militias have been battling Sunni extremists in Iraq for years alongside the Iraqi regulars. The newly established intelligence sharing cell set up in Baghdad and jointly staffed by Russia, Syria, Iran, and Iraq is a precursor to what one Iraqi official hopes will be a “full-blown military alliance."
Needless to say, the US understands all of the above and the last straw apparently came with Iraqi PM Haider al-Abadi said he would welcome Russian airstrikes. This week, Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, showed up in Iraq to evaluate the situation and in what can only be described as a childish display, told al-Abadi that Iraq would have to choose between the US and Russia when it comes to countering ISIS. Here’s CBS (because to fully appreciate the pettiness, you have to hear it from the Western media):
The U.S. has told Iraq's leaders they must choose between ongoing American support in the battle against militants of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and asking the Russians to intervene instead.
Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Tuesday that the Iraqis had promised they would not request any Russian airstrikes or support for the fight against ISIS.
Shortly after leaving Baghdad, Dunford told reporters traveling with him that he had laid out a choice when he met with Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi and Defense Minister Khaled al-Obeidi earlier Tuesday.
"I said it would make it very difficult for us to be able to provide the kind of support you need if the Russians were here conducting operations as well," Dunford said. "We can't conduct operations if the Russians were operating in Iraq right now."
He said there was "angst" in the U.S. when reports surfaced that al-Abadi had said he would welcome Russian airstrikes in Iraq. The U.S., Dunford said, "can't have a relationship right now with Russia in the context of Iraq."
The choice given to Abadi in Iraq by Dunford on Tuesday is a clear indication that the U.S. is not willing to compete with Russia for airspace over two neighboring countries deeply intertwined in the same convoluted war.
The U.S. and Russia put into practice new rules on Tuesday designed to minimize the risk of air collisions between military aircraft over Syria.
Reuters reports that the U.S. ultimatum to Iraq puts Abadi in a difficult position, as his own country's ruling political alliance and some powerful Shiite groups have been pushing him to request Russian air support.
The news agency said a proposal to request Russian strikes had been put to Abadi last week, but that he was yet to respond.
"Abadi told the meeting parties that it wasn't the right time to include the Russians in the fight because that would only complicate the situation with the Americans and could have undesired consequences even on long-term future relations with America," Reuters quoted a senior Shiite politician close to Abadi as saying.
In other words...
So once again, it looks as though the US is in panic mode and is willing to pull out all the stops in a desperate attempt to keep the Russians from bombing ISIS in Iraq.
There are several theories as to why Washington is so intent on keeping Moscow out. The common sense theory that requires no conspiratorial ruminations says that the US is desperate to avoid ceding Baghdad to Russia and the Pentagon knows that with Iran already effectively in control of the army and the government, Russia would find a very receptive military and political environment in Iraq.
For those inclined to think that in addition to any initial support (i.e. funding and training prior to the official formation of ISIS), the US is still supporting Islamic State, well then the worry for Washington is that Russia simply wipes them out.
Whatever the case, the story is ultimately the same in Iraq as it is in Syria. The US knows that Russia is effective at decimating opposition forces and for whatever reason, Washington is not keen on being a part of it. In Iraq, that unwillingness has now manifested itself in a childish ultimatum from the Pentagon to Baghdad.
Draw your own conclusions.