Iran Seeks Air, Land and Sea Defense Cooperation with Iraq as More U.S. Troops to Leave

(Newsweek) Iran has sought to shore up air, land and sea defense cooperation with neighboring Iraq, seeking a series of security deals as its rival, the United States, pulls out more troops in an effort to draw down its protracted war effort in the Middle East.

Just one day before the Pentagon’s acting chief announced the decision to reduce the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan and Iraq to 2,500 by January 15 as part of Trump’s plans to end the United States’ “perpetual war” abroad, Revolutionary Guard aerospace commander Brigadier General Amir Ali Hajizadeh railed against the United States on Monday in part of a series of meetings between senior Iranian and Iraqi military officials in Tehran.

“The United States is always seeking Iraq’s oil wells, as well as the disintegration of Iraq and the division of its nation and officials,” Hajizadeh said.

Trump has acknowledged his desire to maintain control of natural resources in the Middle East but has also promised to bring about an end to lengthy, costly military interventions across the world. In Iraq, both the U.S. and Iran battled the Islamic State militant group (ISIS) but the defeat of the jihadis and the White House’s exit from a multilateral nuclear deal has brought about a sharp escalation in tensions with Tehran.

This animosity erupted earlier this year with the U.S. killing of Revolutionary Guard Quds Force commander Major General Qassem Soleimani and Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Forces second-in-command Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis at Baghdad International Airport.

Hajizadeh said the peoples of Iran and Iraq “would never forget” their deaths and swore revenge for the explosive act that pit two nations Iraq considers partners against one another. Baghdad has continued to seek close cooperation with Washington even after the event but on Monday Iraq’s defense chief stressed the importance of his nation’s collaboration with Tehran.

Iraqi Defense Minister Lieutenant General Juma Anad Saadoun gave similar assurances Saturday to his Iranian counterpart Brigadier General Amir Hatami and on Sunday to Iranian military chief of staff Major General Mohammad Hossein Baqeri, who said the two countries have drafted an agreement to formally boost their joint military efforts.

Baqeri said this included providing Iraqi forces with arms and equipment, an arrangement long restricted by international law until last month’s expiration of a United Nations arms embargo the U.S. fought unsuccessfully to extend.

The two countries discussed specific areas of cooperation in a number of fields.

Saadoun also met Sunday with Supreme National Security Council Secretary Ali Shamkhani. The pair consulted on reinforcing security on their 1,000-mile border, with the senior Iranian official saying defense cooperation between the two nations “guarantees regional stability and security, and must be promoted to strategic levels and be institutionalized,” according to the semi-official Tasnim News Agency.

Revolutionary Guard naval commander Rear Admiral Ali Reza Tangsiri sat down that same day with Iraqi navy chief Rear Admiral Ahmed Jassim al-Ma’arij for a dialogue on defending their maritime borders in the Persian Gulf.

When it comes to securing the skies, Iranian Army Ground Force Airborne Division commander General Yousef Qorbani spoke Sunday with his Iraqi counterpart General Samir Zaki Hussein about joint helicopter work among other topics. On Tuesday, Iranian Air Force commander Brigadier General Aziz Nasirzadeh and his Iraqi counterpart Lieutenant General Shahab Jahid Ali al-Shakarachi discussed coordination on the aerial battle against militant groups and the mutual development of their air forces.

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