Iraq has announced an agreement on "security and intelligence cooperation" with Russia, Iran, and Syria to counter the threat from the Islamic State (IS) militant group.
The Iraqi military's joint operations command said on September 26 that the agreement came "with increased Russian concern about the presence of thousands of terrorists from Russia undertaking criminal acts” with the IS group.
The statement appeared to contradict remarks made a day earlier by Iraqi Foreign Minister Ibrahim al-Jafaari who said his country had not received any Russian military advisers to help its forces.
Analysts say Russia has stepped up its military involvement in Syria in recent weeks while pressing for Damascus to be included in international efforts to fight IS militants, a demand Washington rejects.
Critics have urged U.S. President Barack Obama to be more decisive in the Middle East, particularly toward the Syrian conflict, and say lack of a clear American policy has given Islamic State opportunities to expand.
A spokesman for Iraqi Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi's office told the AFP news agency that Iraq, Russia, Syria, and Iran agreed to set up a committee increasing intelligence coordination against the IS group.
Spokesman Saad al-Hadithi said the cell would focus on "monitoring the movements of terrorists...and degrade their capacity."
Hadithi did not say whether the new cell had already begun its work.
Russian news agency Interfax earlier quoted a military diplomatic source in Moscow as saying a committee might be created in Baghdad to plan military operations and control armed forces units in the fight against Islamic State.
A Russian Foreign Ministry official told Interfax on September 25 that Moscow could "theoretically" join the U.S.-led coalition against IS fighters if Damascus were included in international efforts to combat Islamic State and any international military operation in Syria had a United Nations mandate.
Despite more than $20 billion in U.S. aid and training, Iraq's army has nearly collapsed twice in the last year in the face of advances by Islamic State, which controls large swaths of territory in the north and west of the OPEC oil producer.
Meanwhile, Russia’s President Vladimir Putin spoke to Saudi Arabia's King Salman on September 26 about "finding ways to settle the conflict in Syria" -- just two days before the Russian leader is due to address the UN General Assembly in New York on the issue.
In a telephone conversation at Russia's instigation, the two men discussed "building more effective international cooperation in the fight against the so-called Islamic State and other terrorist groups,” the Kremlin said.
Moscow has supported Syrian President President Bashar al-Assad throughout four-and-a-half years of a civil war that has killed more than 240,000 people.
Saudi Arabia, which is part of the U.S.-led coalition against the IS group, refuses to cooperate with the Damascus regime.
With reporting by AFP and Reuters