Iraq, Syria Deliberate IS Strategy

Iraq, Syria Deliberate IS StrategyIraq, Syria Deliberate IS Strategy

Iraq’s national security adviser briefed Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on efforts to counter Islamic State (IS) on Tuesday, in the first such meeting since the United States launched air strikes on the radical group in Iraq.

The United States and other Western governments have dismissed the idea of cooperating with Syria in the fight against Islamic State, which has seized large areas of Iraq and Syria.

But the government in Baghdad is an important ally for Assad. Iraqi militias have fought on Assad’s side against the insurgency.

The meeting between Faleh al-Fayad, the Iraqi national security adviser, and Assad indicated that the Iraqi government aims to maintain those ties, Reuters reported. It also points to the scope for possible indirect contact between Syria and the West over the fight against Islamic State via third parties such as Iraq.

Fayad “put Assad in the picture of the latest developments in Iraq and the efforts that the Iraqi government and people are making to combat the terrorists”, Syrian state news agency SANA said.

 Strengthening Cooperation

The meeting stressed “the importance of strengthening cooperation and coordination between the two brotherly countries in the field of combating terrorism that is hitting Syria and Iraq and which threatens the region and the world,” SANA said.

Territory held by Islamic State in Syria includes most of Deir al-Zor province, which borders Iraq.

US President Barack Obama said last week he would not hesitate to strike Islamic State in Syria. The Syrian government has said any military action taken without its consent would amount to an act of aggression.

 “Pressure Supporters of Terrorism”

Assad told Fayad that efforts to counter terrorism must start with pressure on the states that support and finance it -- a reference to Persian Gulf Arab states Saudi Arabia and Qatar which Damascus accuses of sponsoring hardline insurgent groups.

The United States, which backs militants fighting Assad, is leading efforts to forge an international coalition against Islamic State. Iraq has attended two conferences in recent days to rally international support to the cause but Syria has not been invited.

A Lebanese official with close ties to the Syrian government said Fayad had expressed Baghdad’s displeasure at Syria’s exclusion from international efforts against Islamic State, echoing sentiments from Russia and Iran.

 Maintaining Ties

The Iraqis had told Assad that a new Baghdad administration of Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi would continue the cooperation that existed when Nuri al-Maliki was premier, said the official who was briefed on the talks.

That cooperation would remain as it was in Maliki’s era, or could be even closer “given that Syria and Iraq are in one trench confronting the ISIS danger”, the official said.

Russia on Monday urged Western and Arab governments to overcome their distaste for Assad and engage with him to fight Islamic State.

Assad’s allies are developing their own response, said Salem al-Zahran, a Lebanese journalist close to Damascus.

Lebanese resistance group Hezbollah, Iran and Russia have been looking at new ways to work with Syria to counter the threat, Zahran said, citing discussions and observations on a recent trip to Tehran.

“Syrians, Lebanese, Russians were there, and there were foreign meetings about an actual confrontation strategy.”