Syria, Iran slam US strategy in fighting militants
DAMASCUS, Syria (AP) — Syrian and Iranian officials criticized the Obama administration on Thursday for excluding them from an international coalition coming together in the battle against the Islamic State group, while a state-run Syrian daily warned that unauthorized U.S. airstrikes on Syria may trigger the “first sparks of fire” in the region.
The strongest reaction, however, came from Russia, Syrian President Bashar Assad’s main international ally. A Russian Foreign Ministry statement said such military action without a U.N. Security Council resolution “would be an act of aggression and flagrant violation of international law.”
Syria’s main Western-backed opposition group, meanwhile, welcomed Obama’s first-ever authorization of U.S. 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 Assad.
Kurdish politicians in Iraq similarly praised 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,” he told The Associated Press.
The U.S. began launching limited airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Iraq early 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.
The Sunni extremists seized roughly a third of Iraq and Syria in their rampage this summer, declaring a self-styled caliphate in areas under their control where they apply their strict interpretation of Islamic law.
In a prime-time address to the nation from the White House late Wednesday, Obama announced he was authorizing U.S. airstrikes inside Syria for the first time, along with expanded strikes in Iraq as part of “a steady, relentless effort” to root out Islamic State extremists and curb their reign of terror.
He also again urged Congress to authorize a program to train and arm Syrian rebels who are fighting both the Islamic State militants and Assad’s forces.
Obama did not say when U.S. forces would begin striking at targets inside Syria.
Syrian Minister for Reconciliation, Ali Haider, warned that “any action without the approval of the Syrian government is an aggression on Syria.” Speaking to reporters Thursday, he said international law dictates that any military action needs Damascus’ approval, and should also be coordinated with the government.
Obama has ruled out any partnership with Assad in the fight against the Islamic State militants, saying the Syrian leader will “never regain the legitimacy” he has lost.
“I wonder how an international coalition can be formed and Syria, which is targeted by terrorism in depth, is shunned aside?” Syrian lawmaker Sharif Shehadeh told The Associated Press.