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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 13 December 2018

Iraq may operate against ISIL inside Syria, says expert

Prime Minister Al Abadi wants his country to 'fight terrorism in the region'

Members of the Iraqi Counter-Terrorism Service take part in an arms training session at the Special Forces Academy near Baghdad's international airport. Ahmad Al Rubaye / AFP
Members of the Iraqi Counter-Terrorism Service take part in an arms training session at the Special Forces Academy near Baghdad's international airport. Ahmad Al Rubaye / AFP

Iraq may carry out special forces operations against ISIL fighters in neighbouring Syria to stop them infiltrating back into Iraq, an expert close to the Baghdad government said on Wednesday.

While troops could be dropped into Syria, the plan does not at this stage involve sending ground forces over the border, Hisham Al Hashimi, who advises several governments on ISIL, including Iraq's, told Reuters.

Prime Minister Haider Al Abadi declared victory in Iraq over the militant group in December but on Sunday he described ISIL's presence in Syria as a real danger.

With Baghdad on good terms with Syrian President Bashar Al Assad, Mr Abadi stressed that any operations would be limited.

"Our plan is to move from fighting terrorism in Iraq to fighting terrorism in the region. We are not trespassing over our border or attacking neighbouring countries," he said, adding that the plan was being discussed by the Iraqi military leadership.

Last year Iraqi warplanes carried out at least one strike on ISIL targets inside Syria, in co-ordination with the US-led anti-ISIL coalition and with the approval of the Syrian government.

Iraq also has good relations with Iran and Russia, Mr Assad's main backers in the seven-year Syrian civil war, while it simultaneously receives strong support from the coalition.

Mr Abadi declared victory five months after US-backed Iraqi forces dislodged ISIL militants from Mosul, their de facto capital in the north of the country.

This put an end to the cross-border "caliphate" they declared in 2014. However, ISIL continues to carry out ambushes, assassinations and bombings across Iraq.

Special forces from a number of countries already operate in Syria, including the United States, Russia and Iran. Turkey has also sent in ground forces to push Kurdish fighters away from its border.

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