Syria, Iran slam US strategy in fighting ISIL militants

DAMASCUS // Syrian and Iranian officials criticised the Obama administration on Thursday for excluding them from a coalition to fight ISIL.

The strongest reaction, however, came from Russia, Bashar Al Assad’s main ally. The Russian foreign ministry said airstrikes without a UN Security Council resolution “would be an act of aggression and flagrant violation of international law”.

Syria’s main Western-backed opposition group, meanwhile, welcomed Mr Obama’s first-ever authorisation of US airstrikes in Syria, saying it stands “ready and willing” to partner with the international community to defeat the militants.

But the Syrian National Coalition said that airstrikes need to be coupled with a strategy for ultimately toppling Mr Al Assad, the president.

Kurdish politicians in Iraq similarly praised Mr Obama’s announcement of wider airstrikes and assistance to Iraqi forces.

“We welcome this new strategy,” said Hoshyar Zebari, a Kurdish politician and one of Iraq’s newly appointed deputy prime ministers. “We think it will work with the cooperation of the indigenous local forces like Iraqi Security Forces, the Kurdish peshmerga and other forces.”

“There is an urgent need for action. People cannot sit on the fence. This is a mortal threat to everybody.”

The US began launching limited airstrikes against ISIL targets in Iraq last month at the request of former Iraqi prime minister Nouri Al Maliki. The American firepower provided a significant boost to Iraqi forces, including the Kurdish peshmerga fighters, battling to win back land lost to the militant group.

ISIL seized roughly a third of Iraq and Syria in their rampage this summer, where they apply their strict interpretation of Islamic law.

Mr Obama said on Wednesday he was authorising US airstrikes inside Syria for the first time, along with expanded strikes in Iraq as part of “a steady, relentless effort” to root out the Sunni extremists.

The Syrian Minister for Reconciliation, Ali Haider, said on Thursday that “any action without the approval of the Syrian government is an aggression on Syria”.

In Tehran, foreign ministry spokeswoman Marzieh Afkham said the coalition has “serious ambiguities”.

She said Iran had doubts about the seriousness of the coalition, accusing some members of supporting terrorism in Iraq and Syria.

The new UN envoy to Syria, meanwhile, said “the top priority now is to fight terrorism.” Speaking on his first visit to Damascus following a meeting with Mr Al Assad on Thursday, Staffan de Mistura said he will strive “with a renewed energy” to move toward a political settlement to the Syrian conflict.

Mr Al Assad was quoted by the state-run news agency as saying that recent events in Syria and the region have made fighting terrorism a priority.

Mr de Mistura, a Swedish-Italian diplomat, is stepping into a mission that has frustrated two high-profile predecessors: finding a resolution to a conflict that has killed more than 190,000 people and has driven a third of Syria’s population – some 9 million people – from their homes.

Hadi Bahra, chief of the Syrian National Coalition opposition group, said mainstream rebels desperately need military support to fight the extremists.

“Today, we are one step closer to achieving that goal,” he said.

He said the Syrian Coalition “stands ready and willing to partner with the international community”, not only to defeat the extremists, but also “to rid the Syrian people of the tyranny of the Assad regime”.

* Associated Press