Iraq hints at playing bigger role in Syria war

Iraq hints at playing bigger role in Syria war
Iraq's prime minister has said his country's military forces could play a bigger role in neighbouring Syria's civil war.
2 min read
31 December, 2018
Iraqi forces could play a bigger role in the war in neighbouring Syria [Getty]

Iraqi forces could take part in military campaigns in neighbouring Syria, the country's prime minister has said, where thousands of Islamic State group fighters remain entrenched close to Iraq's border.

Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Madhi told reporters that the presence of Islamic State group militants in the eastern outreaches of Syria could force its military to intervene beyond its borders.

It comes as the US prepares to withdraw its troops from Syria, after President Donald Trump's announcement that IS had been defeated in the country. 

Most military experts have rejected Trump's claim of IS' demise and warned that the group could make a resurgence. The US defence minister and a senior Syria aide allegedly resigned in protest at the president's decision.

Among those most concerned about a possible return of IS is Iraq, which shares a 600km land border with Syria.

Baghdad only recently defeated the group inside its own borders when IS' captured key northern and western cities such as Mosul and Ramadi in 2014 and threatened the capital Baghdad itself.

"This issue [US withdrawal] has a lot of complications," said Abdul-Madhi, according to Reuters.

"If any negative development takes place in Syria it will affect us. We have a 600km (400 mile) border with Syria and Daesh (Islamic State) is there."

The Syrian regime have struggled to cope with IS on their own, while the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces have threatened to halt their assault on the jihadi group if Turkey attacks territories under its control.

Trump has reportedly said he might slow down the US withdrawal from Syria but Turkish forces and regime forces appear poised to launch new offensives into SDF territories, while the buoyed IS have launched series of counter-attacks.

On Sunday, Bashar al-Assad's government reportedly gave Iraqi forces permission to attack IS positions without first waiting for approval from Damascus.

Abdul-Mahdi said an Iraqi delegation had visited Damascus to "gain the initiative, not just deal with the consequences" of the planned US withdrawal.

"There are [Iraqi] groups operating in Syria, and Iraq is the best way to deal with this," he said.

Iraqi Shia militias have taken place in Syrian regime offensives against IS and rebel groups. These militias are thought to operate under Iran's command rather than Baghdad's guidance.

Abdul-Mahdi said he believed that some 2,000 IS fighters were based in Syria, close to Iraq's borders.

Although officially defeated in Iraq, IS sleeper cells and guerilla fighters continue to operate, carrying out bombings, kidnappings and surprise attacks.