Iraq Opens Airspace to Russia After Iran Deployment

al-Abadi and Putin
Russian President Vladimir Putin (R) shakes hands with Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi during their meeting at the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia, May 21, 2015. Al-Abadi has agreed to give Russian air force bomber jets passage through his country's airspace. Kirill Kudryavtsev/Pool/Reuters

Iraq has allowed the Russian air force to use its airspace if needed during airstrikes on Syria, following Russia's decision to deploy aircraft to Iraq's neighbors, Iran, on Tuesday.

Russian government officials have previously not ruled out expanding the bombing campaign on militants from jihadist group Islamic State (ISIS) and others, from Syria to Iraq, though Russia's Foreign Ministry has said this would require Iraq to ask for the airstrikes first.

U.S. allies are supporting Iraqi forces with airstrikes already and, Russia's deployment in Iran's Hamedan base increases Moscow's options, should wish to embark on any such operations on its own in future.

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi held a press conference on Tuesday to explain his country's role will be to allow passage of Russian aircraft to Syria, albeit with restrictions.

"We opened our skies to the Russians under some conditions," al Abadi told Iranian state news channel Press TV. "We have not received an official request from Russia about the passage of any types of rockets across our skies."

According to the Iraqi leader the Russian air force will pass through border corridors and not be allowed to fly over Iraqi cities.

"I allowed the bombers to fly over because we received clear information about them. They make precise strikes, avoid casualties among civilians. So, we will consider all the requests concerning security of civilians in Syria," Abadi added.

Russia's decision to deploy more jets for Syrian operations, to a country that shares no borders with Syria, may be an attempt to strengthen capabilities in the region - a move the U.S. branded "unfortunate but not surprising."

Moscow has already boasted results from its new deployment, announcing on the day it made the decision official that a formation of aircraft had already completed a series of airstrikes killing "a large number" of militants in Syria.