Turkish-backed Syrian fighters
Turkish-backed Syrian fighters raise their weapons as they arrive in the border rebel-held town of Qirata after leaving their barracks in the town of Jarabulus on their way to the northern town of Manbij, on December 25, 2018. Image Credit: AFP

Baghdad: Iraqi troops could deploy into neighbouring Syria, Iraq’s prime minister said Monday, in the latest fallout from the US decision to withdraw from the war-torn country.

Adel Abdul Mahdi said his government was “considering all the options” to protect Iraq from threats across its borders, days after President Donald Trump announced the US would leave Syria.

Iraq is keeping reinforcements along its frontier to guard against infiltration by Daesh militants, who hold a pocket of territory along the Euphrates River.

With the US pulling out of Syria, it leaves its allies, the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, to fight the Daesh alone.

It also leaves the SDF exposed to military action by Turkey, which says the group is linked to a Kurdish separatist organisation operating within Turkish borders.

SDF officials warned they would divert resources away from the battle against Daesh to defend against Turkey, which is amassing forces along its frontier.

And the Syrian government could also step into the fray, analysts warned, if it sees the opportunity to bring the SDF-controlled northeast back under its rule.

Abdul Mahdi, in a press conference Monday, said Iraq was concerned that Daesh could expand its footprint in the war zone. He also expressed concerns that a wave of Syrian refugees is being displaced to Iraq.

The prime minister spoke with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo about the US withdrawal on Saturday. Abdul Mahdi said his government did not receive a US request to deploy inside Syria. But he said the possibility was “circulating.”

“Iraq will take its decisions in consultation with its friends and neighbours,” he said.

Iraq does not have any army forces inside Syria. But various Iranian-funded and trained militias, part of the Popular Mobilisation Forces, are fighting inside Syria on behalf of the government. The PMF are part of Iraq’s national security apparatus, but have some autonomy in their operations.