by Igor Serebryne, Zheng Haoning
MOSCOW, Oct. 11 (Xinhua) -- Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Al-Maliki wrapped up his visit here Wednesday, with both countries finding a common purpose in rebuilding their relationship.
His visit was significant to both Russia, a country seeking to strengthen its presence in the Middle East, and Iraq, which is eager to cast off its image as a U.S. puppet.
Maliki met Russian President Vladimir Putin and Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev and discussed a range of issues, including energy and military technology cooperation.
A series of bilateral military contracts worth 4.2 billion U.S. dollars were also unveiled during his visit.
WIN-WIN DEALS FOR BOTH
Local experts say Maliki's visit will bring win-win results and qualitative changes to Russia-Iraq relations.
According to Konstantin Eggert, a Russian expert on Middle East affairs, Russia and Iraq have "reset" their cooperation after nearly 10 years of stagnation, especially their military cooperation.
"The fact that Russia and Iraq resume their cooperation in such a sensitive sphere in such a sensitive region as the Middle East after nearly 10 years of stagnation is very important by itself. There has been a lull in their cooperation since the toppling of Saddam Hussein," Eggert told Xinhua on Thursday.
During his visit, Maliki said his country needed Russia's help in the military and defense areas, adding Iraq would like to forge a closer partnership with Russia in the future.
"It is a mutually beneficial development in bilateral ties," Eggert said, adding the main advantage for both sides was political rather than commercial or military.
"For Russia, it is a demonstration of its presence in the Middle East arms markets. For Iraq, it is proof that Baghdad is not a toy dog of Washington," Eggert said.
The expert was echoed by Ruslan Pukhov, director of the Moscow-based Center for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies. Pukhov agreed the Iraqi leadership had been cautiously distancing itself from the United States lately.
"Baghdad is gradually re-orientating itself from Washington to Tehran. At the same time, the Russian military-industrial sector finds favorable political support in such a sensitive area as an arms exporter," Pukhov said.
OLD FRIENDSHIP REAPPEARS UNDER NEW SETTINGS
Medvedev hailed Russia-Iraq relations Tuesday, saying the ties were "based on traditional friendship," while Maliki enthusiastically agreed.
Memories of the traditional friendship and common values were very timely for the current Iraq leadership, which was attempting to seek a balance between Tehran and Washington, Eggert said.
The Kremlin now placed its bets on non-Sunni regimes in the region, such as Syria, Iran and Iraq, in the hope that these countries could counterbalance the influence of Saudi Arabia, Qatar and other pro-Western monarchies in the Gulf, he said.
Meanwhile, Maliki said his country supported efforts aimed at resolving the Syrian crisis peacefully and opposed foreign military intervention.
"Moscow and Baghdad share the aversion to any outside military intervention in Syria. What Maliki said on that matter was very similar to what Russian leaders say," Eggert said.
"The Iraqi prime minister has signalled to his Russian hosts that Baghdad would not be happy if Syria falls under Saudi or Western influence. This is in full harmony with what Moscow wants to see and hear," the expert said.