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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 16 November 2018

Iranian militias must leave Syria, US anti-ISIS envoy tells The National 

Washington’s enduring political and military mission is to ensure a stable and independent Syria free from Iran-backed militias

Brett McGurk, US special Presidential Envoy for Iraq and Syria, addresses the 14th International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) Manama Dialogue in the Bahraini capital Manama on October 27, 2018. / AFP / STR
Brett McGurk, US special Presidential Envoy for Iraq and Syria, addresses the 14th International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) Manama Dialogue in the Bahraini capital Manama on October 27, 2018. / AFP / STR

Iran-backed forces must leave Syria for stability to prevail in the war-torn country, the US envoy for the global coalition to defeat ISIS told The National.

Washington’s enduring political and military mission is to ensure a stable and independent Syria free from Iran-backed militias, Brett McGurk said.

“No one wants them there. We even hear from the Russians that they shouldn’t be there. We’ve taken that and said for a stable Syria these forces must leave,” Mr McGurk said at a military conference in Bahrain.

He said that many militias supported by Tehran were trying to control the streets of Aleppo after President Bashar Al Assad’s army drove rebels from their stronghold in the Syrian city.

Aleppo was Syria’s most populous city and industrial engine before the war and its recapture delivered Mr Al Assad’s biggest battlefield victory.

After the regime recaptured the city there was violence and displacement, and the Russians had military police trying to stabilise the situation, Mr McGurk said.

The US official was speaking as Russian President Vladimir Putin held talks in Istanbul with the leaders of France, Germany and Turkey on Saturday, seeking a political solution to the seven-year conflict in Syria.

“I’ve spent a lot of time with the Russians and they are very concerned about these forces on the streets. They are also disingenuous on that regard because they are also working with the Iranians,” Mr McGurk said.

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More from the Manama Dialogue:

Iran the driver of regional instability says Saudi Foreign Minister Adel Al Jubeir

US stands against Iran’s proliferation of weapons and funding of 'proxy terrorists'

King Abdullah says "full funds" must go to Palestinian aid agency

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Moscow has been Mr Al Assad’s principle foreign ally in the war.

On ISIS, Mr McGurk said that the fight against the insurgents was entering its final stage.

“It’s now the time to focus on the long-term political solution and we cannot have these forces dominating the grounds,” he said.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights in Britain said that ISIS gunmen killed at least 40 US backed Syrian fighters.

“Since Friday, ISIS killed 41 fighters with the Syrian Democratic Forces,” the monitor said.

Washington believes that if the US leaves Syria in the near future, a vacuum will be filled by those working against the Syrian people, including the Iran-backed militias, Mr McGurk said.

Meanwhile in Iraq, armed groups that operate outside of the state are posing as a serious problem, he said.

“What we hear from the Iraqis and Iraqi leadership is that they want to get all armed groups under the control of the state,” Mr McGurk said.

This has been a driving theme coming from the Iraqi population and played a part during May’s parliamentary elections.

“That means that all armed groups must be under control of the state. That means if an armed group operates outside of the control of state that’s a problem for the Iraqis,” Mr McGurk said.

He said Washington was willing to train Iraq’s security forces to protect their independence.

“Under a strategic framework in Iraq, the US looks for mutual interests and looks for Iraqis to strengthen their own interests and sovereignty,” Mr McGurk said.