Syrian President Bashar Assad said on Sunday he has authorized Iraqi forces to attack the Islamic State group inside Syria without waiting for permission from authorities in Damascus.
The decision, reported by state news agency SANA, comes as the two allies co-ordinate their fight against extremists ahead of a planned U.S. withdrawal from Syria.
The announcement highlights the close relations between the two neighbouring Arab countries that are both allied with Iran. IS once controlled large parts of both countries when it declared a caliphate in 2014.
Iraqi warplanes and artillery have in the past pounded IS positions inside Syria after getting the green light from Syrian authorities.
The extremists have been defeated in Iraq but still hold a small area in Syria close to the Iraqi border.
On Saturday, Mr. Assad received a letter from Iraq’s Prime Minister Abdul-Mahdi calling for both countries to co-ordinate efforts in “fighting terrorism.”
President Donald Trump announced earlier this month that the U.S. will withdraw all of its 2,000 forces in Syria. The main U.S.-backed Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces has expressed concerns that the United States plans to pull out could lead to the revival of IS saying that the extremists have not been defeated yet in Syria.
In Washington, Senator Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said he is going to encourage Mr. Trump to sit down with generals and reconsider pulling troops from Syria.
“Slow this down, make sure that we get it right, make sure ISIS never comes back,” Mr. Graham said on CNN using a different acronym to refer to IS. “Don’t turn Syria over to the Iranians. That’s a nightmare for Israel.”
Mr. Graham said that it’s possible for the United States to reduce its footprint in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria, and that he supports the goal of having allies “do more and pay more.” But he added that he also sees the U.S. military playing a role in all three countries for “a while to come.”
“I want to fight the war in the enemy’s backyard, not ours,” Mr. Graham said.
Mr. Graham has been a confidant of Mr. Trump’s, but it’s unclear how much Mr. Trump will listen to him on Syria. Still, Mr. Graham said he’s generally pleased with Mr. Trump’s foreign policy initiatives.
“All I ask him to do is to make sure we don’t fumble the ball inside the 10-yard line, sit down with the generals,” Mr. Graham said.
In Tehran on Sunday, Iran and Syria signed a long-term strategic and economic agreement as the war winds down in Syria, where Iran and Russia were the main backers of Mr. Assad’s government since the crisis began nearly eight years ago.
Syria’s SANA news agency quoted Syrian Minister of Economy and Foreign Trade Mohammed Samer al-Khalil, who signed the agreement, as saying that the deal includes “full co-operation on the financial and banking levels.” He added that this would allow Iranian companies to be present through investments in Syria.
The Syrian government has gained control of large parts of the country with the help of Iran and Russia and some Arab countries, including the oil-rich United Arab Emirates, have reopened their embassies in Damascus.
The Syrian government estimates reconstruction of the war-torn country will cost approximately $200-billion dollars and will take 15 years.
Al-Khalil said that “priority in the reconstruction of Syria will be given to Iranian public and private companies,” according to SANA’s report.
SANA also reported that a technical delegation from the UAE visited Damascus International Airport to evaluate it in preparation for the resumption of flights between the Gulf nation and Syria.