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Iraqi militias smuggle weapons to Russia via Iran

3 cargo ships with the weaponry onboard left an Iranian port on the Caspian Sea and arrived in the Russian city of Astrakhan between 26 March to 1 April 2022 

Weapons from Iraq are being smuggled to Russia with the help of Iran and its militant groups throughout the Middle East, a report by the Guardian newspaper has revealed.

Citing intelligence sources and members of Iran-backed militias in Iraq, the paper reported that a number of heavy weapons – including missile defence systems and anti-tank missiles – have been sent to Russia through a land and sea route in an effort to help Moscow with its military offensive in Ukraine.

The weapons being transported include RPGs [rocket-propelled grenade launchers], Brazilian-designed rocket launcher systems, an Iranian-made Bavar 373 missile system, as well as a returned Russian-made S-300 air defence system.

According to the paper, which quoted a militia commander who helped in the transportation, the arms – which were sourced by the Popular Mobilisation Forces, the umbrella group of Iran-backed Shia militias in Iraq, were first taken across the Iraqi border into Iran through the Salamja border crossing on 26 March. They were then received by the Iranian military and transported by sea to Russia.

An example of one of the shipments was cited by the paper as involving three cargo ships – two Russian-flagged and one Iranian-flagged – which carried the heavy loads and crossed the Caspian Sea from Iran's northern Bandar Anzali port to the Russian port of Astrakhan.

Iran's Supreme Leader criticises US over Ukraine crisis

One PMF source told the paper that the primary reason they are helping to smuggle the weapons to Russia is because "Whatever is anti-US makes us happy." Another reason, though, is that "We don't care where the heavy weapons go" because they have no need of them for now.

The Russian forces, however, very much do need them. According to Yörük Işık, an Istanbul-based maritime affairs expert who was quoted by the Guardian, "What the Russians need in Ukraine right now is missiles. These require skill to transport as they're fragile and explosive…It's also not the kind of activity that would be picked up by satellite imagery as they can be transported in large boxes and regular shipping containers."

As for Iran's main motive for covertly assisting Russian forces in their invasion of Ukraine, it is reportedly due to the potentially disastrous impact that a Russian defeat would have on Iran, especially in Syria. Despite Tehran and Moscow's subtle rivalry in Syria, where both are vying for more control over the country and influence over Bashar Al-Assad's regime, their overall interests and aims are interconnected in the form of their 'Axis of Resistance' against Western hegemony.

As Mohaned Hage Ali, a fellow at the Carnegie Middle East Centre, was quoted as saying: "If the Putin regime is destabilised that has huge implications for Iran, particularly in Syria, where Damascus is dependent on Russian air support and Russia coordinates to avoid direct conflict between them and Israel."

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