Syria’s Assad authorises Iraqi forces to strike IS in Syria

DAMASCUS, Syria (AP) – Syrian President Bashar Assad authorised Iraqi forces last Sunday to attack the Islamic State (IS) extremist group inside Syria without waiting for permission from authorities in Damascus, the state news agency SANA said, as the two allies coordinate their fight against extremists ahead of a planned United States (US) withdrawal from Syria.

The announcement highlights the close relations between the two neighbouring countries that are both allied with Iran. IS once controlled large parts of both countries when it declared a kingdom in 2014.

Iraqi warplanes and artillery have in the past pounded IS positions inside Syria after getting the green light from Syrian authorities.

The extremists have been defeated in Iraq but still hold a small area in Syria close to the Iraqi border.

Last Saturday Assad received a letter from Iraq’s Prime Minister Abdul-Mahdi calling for both countries’ coordination in “fighting terrorism”.

US President Donald Trump announced earlier this month that the US will withdraw all of its 2,000 forces in Syria. The main US-backed Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) has expressed concerns that the US plans to pull out could lead to the revival of IS, saying that the extremists have not been defeated yet in Syria.

Handout picture released by official Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA) last Saturday shows Syrian President Bashar Assad (R) meet with Iraqi National Security Advisor Faleh al-Fayad in Damascus. – AFP

In Washington, Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican representative for South Carolina, said he is going to encourage Trump to sit down with generals and reconsider pulling troops from Syria. In Tehran, Iran and Syria signed last Sunday a long-term strategic and economic agreement as the war winds down in Syria where Iran and Russia were the main backers of Assad’s government since the crisis began nearly eight years ago.

Syria’s SANA news agency quoted Syrian Minister of Economy and Foreign Trade Mohammed Samer al-Khalil, who signed the agreement, as saying that the deal includes “full cooperation on the financial and banking levels”.

He added that this would allow Iranian companies to be present through investments in Syria.

The Syrian government has gained control of large parts of the country with the help of Iran and Russia and some Arab countries.

The Syrian government estimates reconstruction of the war-torn country will cost some USD200 billion dollars and last 15 years.

Al-Khalil said that “priority in the reconstruction of Syria will be given to Iranian public and private companies,” according to SANA’s report.

SANA also reported that a technical delegation form the United Arab Emirates visited Damascus International Airport to evaluate it in preparation for resumption of flights between the Gulf nation and Syria.