Russia's new anti-ISIS coalition surprised U.S. officials

John Kerry meets Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov at the U.N. amid mounting tensions over Syria
(Image credit: Dominick Reuter/AFP/Getty Images)

On Sunday, Iraq said that it has signed an intelligence and security cooperation agreement with Russia, Iran, and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, purportedly to battle Islamic State. "American officials knew that a group of Russian military officers were in Baghdad," reports Michael R. Gordon at The New York Times, "but they were clearly surprised when the Iraqi military's Joint Operations Command announced the intelligence sharing accord on Sunday."

The new, formal agreement follows a steady Russian military buildup in Syria, enabled by Iraq and Iran. Russian President Vladimir Putin said in an interview with Charlie Rose released Sunday that the buildup was merely to advise and train Bashar's forces on newly delivered Russian armaments, and that Russia is "offering cooperation to the countries of the region, and we're attempting to create a kind of coordination structure" to battle ISIS. Putin said he has also spoken with Turkey and Saudi Arabia.

Russian drones have been flying over areas of Syria where there's no known ISIS presence, U.S. officials tell The Times, suggesting that Moscow is at least as interested in battling rebels trying to oust Assad as combatting ISIS. The U.S. wants Assad gone. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov met at the United Nations on Sunday, before a rare formal meeting between President Obama and Putin on Monday.

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"We're just at the beginning of trying to understand what the Russians' intentions are in Syria, in Iraq, and to try to see if there are mutually beneficial ways forward here," a senior U.S. official who attended the Kerry-Lavrov meeting tells The Wall Street Journal. "We've got a long way to go in that conversation."

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Peter Weber

Peter Weber is a senior editor at, and has handled the editorial night shift since the website launched in 2008. A graduate of Northwestern University, Peter has worked at Facts on File and The New York Times Magazine. He speaks Spanish and Italian and plays bass and rhythm cello in an Austin rock band. Follow him on Twitter.