Putin to meet Iraq VP as Baghdad seeks 'substantial' Russian military and political presence in the country

Russian President Vladimir Putin (R) shakes hands with the then Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki in his Novo-Ogaryovo residence outside MoscowReuters

Iraqi Vice President Nouri al-Maliki is seeking Moscow's "substantial" military and political presence in the war-torn country. The Iraqi leader, who landed in Russia on 23 July for a visit until 26 July, is set to hold formal talks with President Vladimir Putin today (25 July).

The vice president has already met Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov appealing for a more serious role from Moscow. Al-Maliki, the leader of the Rule of Law parliamentary coalition, also met parliament speaker Valentina Matviyenko during the first part of his visit.

"It is known that Russia has historically strong relations with Iraq. So, we would like Russia to have a substantial presence in our country, politically and militarily. This way, a balance would be established that would benefit the region, its peoples and its countries," said the Iraqi vice president as he prepares for talks with Putin in St Petersburg.

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Al-Maliki previously visited Iraq in 2012 when he was the then prime minister. He added that Baghdad wants to strengthen its bilateral relations with Moscow and believes "in Russia's role in solving most of the key international issues as well as improving stability and balance in our region and worldwide".

Russia has been actively involved in the Syria-Iraq tensions in the past few years. The western world is widely sceptical of Moscow's participation in the conflict saying its position bolster the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad which has a poor human rights record. The US-led coalition, which pounds the Islamic State (Isis) militants in the region, is also not in favour of the Assad regime.

"Russia is also determined to expand its interaction with Iraq both politically and economically as well as in the military-technical sphere, and, of course, on the parliamentary level," said Russian speaker Matviyenko following the discussions with al-Maliki.

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