Iraq hints at bigger anti-ISIS role in Syria after US withdrawal

BAGHDAD • Iraq's Prime Minister has said that top security officials from Baghdad have met Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in Damascus, and hinted at a bigger Iraqi role fighting militants from the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) group as US troops withdraw from Syria.

"This issue has a lot of complications," Mr Adil Abdul-Mahdi told reporters on Sunday, referring to US President Donald Trump's surprise announcement last month that he will withdraw American forces from Iraq's neighbour.

"If any negative development takes place in Syria, it will affect us. We have a 600km border with Syria and Daesh (ISIS) is there," Mr Abdul-Mahdi said.

The Premier said the Iraqi delegation visited Damascus to "gain the initiative, not just deal with the consequences" of any future ISIS activity emboldened by the US withdrawal. Iraqi news websites said the visit took place last Saturday.

Mr Abdul-Mahdi said Iraq sought to move beyond its current arrangement with Syria - under which it launches air strikes against ISIS militants in Syrian territory - but did not go into more details.

"There are groups operating in Syria, and Iraq is the best way to deal with this," he said, responding to a question about the possibility of increased involvement of Iraqi forces in Syria.

 

Iraqi Shi'ite Muslim paramilitary groups backed by Iran already operate inside Syrian territory against the Sunni Muslim militants of ISIS.

Mr Abdul-Mahdi previously said that about 2,000 ISIS fighters are operating near the border in Syria and trying to cross into Iraq.

ISIS was militarily defeated in Iraq in 2017, but has continued to launch guerilla-style attacks on security forces in the north of the country.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 01, 2019, with the headline 'Iraq hints at bigger anti-ISIS role in Syria after US withdrawal'. Print Edition | Subscribe