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Iraq and Syria vow to ‘join hands’ in fight against US-sponsored terrorism

IRAQI President Barham Salih and his Syrian counterpart Bashar al-Assad have vowed “to join hands together” in the fight against terrorism as they discussed relations between the two countries.

In a phone conversation on Thursday evening, the two leaders spoke of their “two brotherly peoples, who have close historical, geographical and social ties,” and the challenges faced by both Iraq and Syria.

Mr Salih and Mr Assad vowed to “join hands together in the face of common dangers, especially terrorism … and not allow terrorist groups to catch their breath and exploit loopholes to carry out their criminal acts.”

Both countries have successfully repelled the Islamic State (Isis) jihadist group, which at its peak controlled vast swathes of territory in the two countries.

But Isis remains a threat, as does the United States, which is accused of sponsoring terrorist organisations in its drive for regional hegemony.

Under Operation Timber Sycamore, a covert billion-dollar CIA programme, the US provided weapons and training to  a number of jihadist groups in Syria as part of US efforts to overthrow Mr Assad.

Air strikes by the US, and Israel, are also said by critics to undermine the fight against Isis and other Islamist groups.

US President Joe Biden recently an attack on the Iranian-backed Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF), which have been conducting joint anti-terror operations with the Iraqi army.

Last month’s air strike, which killed four PMF soldiers, was condemned by Mr Salih as a “a breach of Iraqi sovereignty.”

Since then, US military bases in both countries have been targeted by resistance forces, which have vowed to continue their fight until US troops are driven out.

The Iraqi parliament voted unanimously last year to demand the withdrawal of all US troops after Iranian Quds Force commander General Qassem Soleimani was assassinated in a US drone strike at Baghdad International Airport.

Nonetheless, some 2,500 US military personnel remain in the country.

Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhemi spoke to US Special Co-ordinator for the Middle East and North Africa Brett McGurk on Thursday about their continued presence.

“Discussions took place about mechanisms for [US] combat troops’ withdrawal from Iraq and moving forward to a new stage in strategic co-operation,” the prime minister’s office said in a statement.

Mr Kadhemi is set to visit Washington later this month to press for a concrete timetable for the US pullout.

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