Iraqi jets strike ISIS target in Syria a day after Damascus carte blanche

Baghdad eyes larger role in neighbouring war-torn country

FILE -  In this July 14, 2016, file, photo, Iraqi Air Force jets take part in a military parade in Baghdad, Iraq. Syria’s state news agency said Sunday, Dec. 30, 2018 that President Bashar Assad has authorized Iraqi forces to attack the Islamic State group inside Syria without waiting for permission from authorities in Damascus.  (AP Photo/Hadi Mizban, File)

Iraqi fighter jets struck an ISIS position inside Syria on Monday, a day after the Syrian government authorised its neighbour to target the militants at will.

Iraq's Joint Operations Command said F-16s struck a two-storey house in Souseh, close to the border, that was being used as a meeting place for ISIS leaders.

Syrian President Bashar Al Assad on Sunday authorised Iraqi forces to attack ISIS militants inside Syria without waiting for permission from Damascus.

At the same time, Iraq's prime minister hinted at a bigger role for his forces ahead of a planned US pullout from Syria. 
Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi said Iraq is seeking to move beyond its current arrangement with Damascus — under which it launches air strikes against ISIS militants in the neighbouring country after getting approval — but did not offer further details.

“There are groups operating in Syria, and Iraq is the best way to deal with this,” he told reporters in reference to ISIS remnants.

Iraqi warplanes and artillery have in the past pounded ISIS positions inside Syria after getting the green light from Syrian authorities. On Sunday, however, Damascus and Baghdad secured an arrangement that will see Iraq conduct air strikes without prior approval, according to the Associated Press.


Read more:

Iran to reap rewards in Syria’s reconstruction, says Syria economy minister

Assad claims Arab states and West beginning Damascus re-engagement

Editorial: A new phase of Syria's war is upon us

Syria's Yazidis will suffer the consequences of US withdrawal: activist 

The news of the deal came one day after top security officials from Baghdad met Mr Assad in Damascus.
Mr Abdul Mahdi said the Iraqi delegation had visited Damascus to "gain the initiative, not just deal with the consequences" of any future ISIS activity emboldened by the US withdrawal.  
"This issue has a lot of complications," he said, referring to President Donald Trump's surprise announcement this month that he will withdraw US forces from Syria. 
"If any negative development takes place in Syria it will affect us. We have a 600 km border with Syria and Daesh (ISIS) is there," the prime minister said.

epa07252845 A handout photo made available by Syria's Arab News Agency (SANA) showing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad (R) meeting with Iraqi National Security Adviser Faleh al-Fayad (L) in Damascus, Syria, 29 December 2018. According to SANA, Fayad conveyed a message to President al-Assad from Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi that concentrated on the developments of relations between the two countries and the necessity of continuing coordination between them on all levels, particularly in regards to combating terrorism, especially along borders between the two states.  EPA/SANA HANDOUT  HANDOUT EDITORIAL USE ONLY/NO SALES

On Saturday Mr Assad received a letter from Mr Abdul Mahdi calling for both countries to co-ordinate in "fighting terrorism."
Iran-backed Iraqi paramilitary forces are already stationed along the Syria border where they act as a buffer against militant incursions into Iraq territory.
Iraqi militias are also operating inside Syria, where they fight alongside Iran-backed pro-government forces, including the Lebanese Hezbollah.
Mr Abdul Mahdi has 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 guerrilla-style attacks on security forces in the north of the country.
In Syria, the group commands a small pocket of territory on the eastern banks of the Euphrates River, near the Iraq border.
A US-backed alliance of Kurdish and Arab, the Syrian Democratic Forces, has been battling militants in the area since September while coalition warplanes have killed more than 1,000 ISIS militants, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.