Iraq Praises West's Fight Against ISIS, Syria Says It Only Made Things Worse

Iraqi officials have offered praise for the West's continued support in the country's war on the Islamic State militant group (ISIS), but their Syrian counterparts see efforts by Europe and the United States as most damaging to the country as it prepares to mark 10 years of civil war.

Iraqi Foreign Minister Fuad Hussein spoke via telephone Wednesday with U.S.-led NATO Western military alliance Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, discussing "ways to continue cooperation between Iraq and NATO within the framework of the full sovereignty of Iraq and the decisions of the Iraqi government" in their joint security mission that emerged after the rapid rise of ISIS in 2014.

Stoltenberg emphasized that NATO's presence is "limited to aspects of training and providing logistical support to the Iraqi forces and security services," and the pair "also agreed to continue coordination in a way that enhances the joint confrontation against ISIS terrorist gangs."

The conversation came after NATO's top commander in Iraq, Lieutenant General Per Olsen, discussed a recent decision to support "an expansion of NATO Mission Iraq." The move was described as "incremental" and "based on the requirements and consent from the Iraqi authorities and conditions on the ground, including with respect to logistical and other security aspects necessary for NMI to continue operating in a safe and effective way."

The U.S. and allied forces first occupied the country in 2003 after an invasion that ousted Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. Years of instability ensued with Shiite and Sunni Muslim insurgencies erupting, the latter being led first by Al-Qaeda and later ISIS.

While ISIS has largely been defeated, it continues to stage attacks in Iraq as well as in neighboring Syria, where Western intervention also targeted the jihadis, but came without the consent of the central government in Damascus as it fought a broader insurgency that included elements back by the U.S.

As the U.S. and the European Union continue to impose sanctions on Syria due to alleged human rights abuses, Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Ayman Sousan lashed out at both parties in remarks delivered Wednesday in response to EU High Representative Josep Borrell's recent speech in which he blamed Syrian President Bashar al-Assad for the ongoing freeze in peace talks.

"European officials should not waste their time drafting statements that only carry illusions and dreams," Sousan said. "As for Syria, the policy of the European Union and the policy of 'ISIS' are two sides of the same coin, which is the American coin."

syria, iraq, border, crossing, qaim, bukamal
Members of the Syrian security forces stand guard atop a military vehicle in front of Syrian and Iraqi national flags at the border-crossing between Al-Bukamal in Syria and Al-Qaim in Iraq, taken from the Syrian side in the eastern region of Deir Ezzor, on September 30, 2019. Both sides of the crossing were once held by ISIS until separate campaigns by security forces and militias, some backed by Iran, retook the strategic boundary. AFP/Getty Images

Both Iraq and Syria continue to face turmoil in the wake of ISIS' years-long campaign to establish a self-styled "caliphate" across the two Arab nations.

Baghdad continues to receive support from Western governments, especially Washington, which maintains a force of around 2,500 troops that continue to advise, assist and train their Iraq counterparts. Iran also has offered extensive assistance, especially through backing mostly Shiite Muslim militias that fought ISIS alongside Iraqi security forces, Kurdish fighters and a U.S.-led coalition.

While some of these paramilitary forces have since turned on the U.S. and acted outside of Iraqi law, the country's capacity for stability was exhibited to the world over the weekend with a historic visit by Pope Francis. The pontiff toured sites formerly controlled by ISIS, such as Iraq's second city of Mosul, and he met with the revered Shiite Muslim cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani.

But in Syria, conflict continues to rage between a range of factions, stymying reconciliation and reconstruction. Assad has regained control of much of the country over the years with support from Iran and Russia, but Turkey-sponsored insurgents continued to operate across the north alongside jihadi forces. The Pentagon-backed Syrian Democratic Forces, a mostly Kurdish group, hold up to a third of the country in the northeast.

Dialogue between the Syrian government and Syrian Democratic Forces has repeatedly failed, leading to hostility between the sides, while both have clashed with the opposition and ISIS, which has recently escalated its attacks. Israel has also targeted Iran-aligned militias, as has the U.S., which conducted a strike last month ordered by President Joe Biden in retaliation for a recent deadly rocket attack on a U.S. position in northern Iraq.

Iraq's ambassador to the United States, Fareed Yasseen, told Newsweek at the time that "the response of the [Biden] administration, at the least, showed greater respect for Iraqi sovereignty than the previous administration in that the retaliatory strike did not occur on Iraqi territory."

He looked forward to Baghdad expanding and normalizing relations with Washington.

"At some point, our relationship will normalize and we will shift from a focus on security to a focus on all the other dimensions covered in our Strategic Framework Agreement: economic development, education, the all-important health issue we're dealing with today, not to mention the environment," he said.

But Damascus' reaction to the attack differed dramatically.

In a statement sent to Newsweek, the Syrian mission to the United Nations said last week that the strike "sends a negative signal of the new administration's policies and its persistent endeavor to implement the law of force instead of the force of law, in continuation of the previous US administrations' approach in dealing with the regional and international crises in the world."

"The Syrian Arab Republic has strongly condemned the American aggression against its sovereignty, independence, unity, and territorial integrity as it gravely violates the principles of international law and provisions of the UN Charter," the mission said. "Syria has warned that this aggression will lead to consequences that will escalate the situation in the region and threaten peace and security."

us, military, syria, oil
A U.S. soldier looks on while on patrol by the Suwaydiyah oil fields in Syria's northeastern Al-Hasakah province on February 13. Former President Donald Trump tasked U.S. troops with guarding oil and gas resources across Syrian Democratic Forces-controlled areas in northeastern Syria, a mission that has garnered accusations by Damascus and its allies that Washington was stealing the country's resources. DELIL SOULEIMAN/AFP/Getty Images

Syria, joined by Russia, Iran and, most recently, the United Arab Emirates, has also repeatedly called for the U.S. to lift tough unilateral sanctions on the conflict-ravaged country as it struggles with turmoil, financial crisis and COVID-19, which recently afflicted Assad and his wife, Syrian First Lady Asma al-Assad.

The U.S. and a number of Western countries have called for accountability for Assad over alleged war crimes, including the use of chemical weapons.

Moscow and Tehran, for their part, have also collaborated to resolve the Syrian conflict alongside Ankara in spite of its support for the opposition.

"Despite the difficult moments in Syria, both presidents [of Russia and Turkey] have always managed to find a compromise," Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said Wednesday, according to the state-run Tass Russian News Agency. "We commend the political will of our partners to look for compromise even in difficult situations."

Turkey and Iran, while maintaining their own bilateral cooperation, have been at odds at times as well, especially over continuing Turkish cross-border attacks in Iraq and Syria.

In their most recent dispute, Iranian ambassador to Iraq Iraj Masjedi complained late last month of Turkish strikes against Kurdish positions following the killing of Turkish citizens in an attack blamed on the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) in northern Iraq.

This prompted Tehran's envoy in Ankara Mohammad Farazmandi to be summoned by Turkey, while Turkish ambassador to Iran Derya Ors was also summoned by Iran in response to comments in which he alleged the PKK was operating in Iran.

The Iraqi Foreign Ministry also later denounced the Turkish strike.

iraq, artillery, fire, war, isis
In support of the Iraqi Security Forces, U.S. Army soldiers assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 8th Field Artillery Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division, fire their M777 towed 155 mm Howitzer at Qayyarah West Airfield against enemy positions on Qanus Island in Iraq, September 10, 2019. "As long as Daesh still poses a danger to the security of Iraq and northeast Syria, the Government of Iraq and ISF partners, supported by Combined Joint Task Force-Operation Inherent Resolve, will continue to strike and ensure the military defeat of Daesh," the U.S. military said at the time, using the Arabic-language acronym for ISIS. Specialist Kahlil Dash/Combined Joint Task Force - Operation Inherent Resolve/U.S. Army