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Russia suggests selling S-400 missile system to Iraq amid row over US troops

Russian defence official says technology could provide 'protection of airspace' following Soleimani's killing
Russian S-400 Triumf surface-to-air missile launchers roll down the Red Square during a night rehearsal for the WWII Victory Parade in Moscow (AFP)

Russia could sell Iraq its S-400 air defence missile system in the wake of Qassem Suleimani's killing, a member of the Russian Defence Ministry's public council has suggested.

Igor Korotchenko, a former magazine editor also known as a flamboyant pundit on Russian TV, said Iraq needed to protect its airspace in the wake of the attack.

"Iraq is a partner of Russia in the field of military-technical cooperation, and the Russian Federation can supply the necessary funds to ensure the sovereignty of the country and reliable protection of airspace, including the supply of S-400 missiles and other components of the air defence system, such as Buk-M3, Tor-M2 and so on," Korotchenko told RIA Novosti.

The US attack last week, which struck Baghdad's airport killing the Iranian Quds Force leader Soleimani and Iraqi militia leader Abu Mahdi al-Mohandis, has driven a wedge between the Iraqi government and its erstwhile ally.

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On Sunday, in a vote supported by Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi, the Iraqi parliament agreed on the expulsion of US forces from Iraq in response to what many condemned as a violation of Iraqi sovereignty. The vote was non-binding.

The strike on Soleimani came partly in response to an attack by pro-Iran demonstrators on the American embassy in Baghdad on 31 December.

The US has accused both Russia and China of failing to condemn the attack and blocking a UN Security Council resolution on the issue.

In response, Russia and China said that the US assassination of Soleimani had undermined any chance of a unified reaction to the embassy attack.

“The press statement was nearly ready. It was agreed upon, at least with us and with the US," said Russian ambassador Vasily Nebenzya in a statement.

"However then, on 3 January, there was that strike on the airport in Baghdad. To ignore this and not to take this into account in the overall context would be impossible."

Diplomatic headaches

Although RIA Novosti quoted the Iraqi ambassador to the Russian Federation, Haidar Mansur, as saying there was “no hint” that Iraq would purchase the S-400 system, it would not be the first time that Russia has helped create a diplomatic row between the US and one of its allies over the S-400.

A deal with Turkey to purchase the missile system, inked in December 2017, has led to the US suspending its NATO ally’s participation in the F-35 stealth fighter programme over fears the purchase could compromise its security.

The move has also led to calls for sanctions to be imposed on Turkey, though US President Donald Trump has attempted to downplay the row.

Claiming the purchase of the S-400 is an issue of national pride, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has threatened to close two strategic military bases used by the US in Turkey in response to the sanctions threat.

"If necessary, we can close Incirlik and we can close Kurecik," Erdogan told the pro-government A Haber television channel in December, referring to the sites near the border with Syria.

Closure of the two bases has long been a demand of nationalist and leftist politicians in Turkey.

The US air force has used the air base at Incirlik for raids on the Islamic State group in Syria, while the Kurecik base houses a major NATO radar station.