BAGHDAD — Russian President Vladimir Putin's bullish entry into the Syrian conflict has worked wonders for his popularity in neighbouring Iraq, where some await "Hajji Putin" like a saviour.
Sitting at his easel in his central Baghdad workshop, painter Mohammed Karim Nihaya touches up a portrait of Putin he copied from the Internet.
"I have been waiting for Russia to get involved in the fight against Daesh," he says, referring to the Islamic State group that last year declared a "caliphate" straddling Iraq and Syria.
"They get results. The United States and its allies on the other hand have been bombing for a year and achieved nothing," the bespectacled artist says.
The US-led coalition has had some successes in helping Iraqi forces reconquer territory lost to IS in 2014 but overall the campaign has also suffered setbacks.
Russian warplanes began bombing targets in Syria on September 30 and on Wednesday Moscow ramped up its air war, unleashing cruise missiles from the Caspian Sea.
Russian President Vladimir Putin leaves the Elysee palace, in Paris, on October 2, 2015. — AFP Photo
Some of them crossed Iraqi airspace and many here, especially among the Shiite majority, would welcome a bit of Russia's firepower on home soil as a much-awaited game-changer.
Only a fraction of Russian air strikes in Syria may have been destined for IS but Mohammed, a young jobless man outside the painter's shop, does not let statistics cloud his enthusiasm.
"We don't want the international coalition, we want only Russia and we will slaughter a sheep to welcome them," he says.
Some Iraqis see Moscow -- which has staunchly backed Damascus and Tehran in recent years -- as a more natural ally than the United States, which occupied the country for eight years. — AFP