BAGHDAD: Iraq's prime minister said on Sunday that top security officials from Baghdad had met Syrian President Bashar Al Assad in Damascus, and hinted at a bigger Iraqi role fighting Daesh militants as U.S. troops withdraw from Syria.
"This issue has a lot of complications," Adel Abdul Mahdi told reporters, referring to U.S. President Donald Trump's surprise announcement this month that he will withdraw U.S. forces from Iraq's neighbour.
"If any negative development takes place in Syria it will affect us. We have a 600 km border with Syria and Daesh is there," Abdul Mahdi said.
The premier said the Iraqi delegation had visited Damascus to "gain the initiative, not just deal with the consequences" of any future Daesh activity emboldened by the U.S. withdrawal.
Iraqi news websites said the visit took place on Saturday.
Abdul Mahdi said Iraq sought to move beyond its current arrangement with Syria - under which it launches air strikes against Daesh militants in Syrian territory - but did not got into more details.
"There are groups operating in Syria, and Iraq is the best way to deal with this," he said, responding to a question about the possibility of increased involvement of Iraqi forces in Syria.
President Bashar Assad has authorized Iraqi forces to attack Daesh inside Syria without waiting for permission from authorities in Damascus.
Iraq launches attack inside Syria
Iraqi warplanes attacked an Daesh explosives factory and other positions inside Syria on Thursday, Baghdad’s military said, in a rare air assault across the border.
Iraqi F-16 jets targeted the militants near the city of Hajin in coordination with the government of Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad, an Iraqi military spokesman said.
Both governments have been fighting the hardline group, which declared a caliphate on both their territories in 2014 before it was forced back by an international offensive.
“Carrying out air strikes on Daesh gangs in Syrian territories is because of the dangers posed by said gangs to Iraqi territories and is proof of the improved capabilities of our armed forces,” the Iraqi military said in a statement.
The US-led coalition also fighting Daesh said it gave the Iraqi mission intelligence support.
Abdul Mahdi has previously said that about 2,000 Daesh fighters are operating near the border in Syria and trying to cross into Iraq.
Daesh was militarily defeated in Iraq in 2017, but has continued to launch guerilla-style attacks on security forces in the north of the country.
Last year, Iraqi warplanes carried out at least one strike on Daesh targets inside Syria, also in coordination with the US-led coalition and with the approval of the Syrian government.