RUSSIAN MILITARY FLYING OVER IRAQ QUESTIONED
Iraq’s government has told the United States that it will not permit Russian military forces to conduct air and missile strikes inside the country. But Baghdad is allowing Russian military aircraft to overfly its territory to resupply its forces, despite a request from the United States to deny the flights.
Sen. Tom Cotton, Arkansas Republican, disclosed during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing Tuesday that the U.S. government asked the governments of Bulgaria and Iraq to close their airspace to Russian aircraft several weeks before Moscow’s Syria military intervention.
Mr. Cotton suggested that Bulgaria agreed to deny the overflights but that Baghdad rejected the U.S. request. Both Defense Secretary Ashton Carter and Marine Corps. Gen. Joseph Dunford didn’t dispute that the diplomatic requests to deny Russian military supply flights were made, but he declined to detail the specifics.
“I would say it’s problematic for Russia to be resupplying its forces in Syria by flying through Iraq,” Mr. Cotton said during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing Tuesday. “We should renew our request that they exclude Russian aircraft from their airspace. And our military should be ready to assist them in excluding Russian aircraft from their airspace.”
Gen. Dunford confirmed that Russian supply flights have passed through Iraq but said it was “not at the understanding of the Iraqi government.”
Iraq’s small F-16 force has limited capabilities to prevent intrusions of its airspace, the four-star general said.
During a visit to Iraq recently, Gen. Dunford said, he received assurances from Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi and other Iraqi leaders that Baghdad would not align with Russia in battling Islamic State militants.
“And I explained to them how difficult it would be for us to continue to provide support if the Russians were invited in to conduct airstrikes,” he said, “and I was assured at every level that that wouldn’t be the case.”
Russia conducted 59 airstrikes from Oct. 23 through Oct. 25 in northern Syria, according to the Russian Defense Ministry.
Sen. Tom Cotton, Arkansas Republican, disclosed during an Armed Services Committee hearing that the U.S. asked Bulgaria and Iraq to close their airspace to Russian aircraft several weeks before Moscow’s Syria military intervention.