US troops cross into Iraq as part of withdrawal from Syria

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Above, a military convoy of carrying US troops vehicles at the Iraqi-Syrian border crossing in the outskirts of Dohuk in Iraq.
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The US currently has more than 5,000 American forces in Iraq. (File/AFP)
Updated 21 October 2019

US troops cross into Iraq as part of withdrawal from Syria

  • US troops have crossed into Iraq from Syria through the Sahela border crossing in the northern province of Dohuk
  • US Defense Secretary Mark Esper said on Saturday that all of the nearly 1,000 troops withdrawing from northern Syria

DOHUK, Iraq: US troops crossed into Iraq early on Monday, part of a withdrawal from northeast Syria ordered by President Donald Trump that opened the way for Turkish troops to launch an offensive against Kurdish fighters in the area.

A Reuters cameraman saw more than 100 vehicles crossing from the northeast tip of Syria, where Turkey has agreed to pause its offensive for five days under a deal agreed between Washington and Ankara. The truce expires late on Tuesday.

Reuters video images showed armored vehicles carrying US troops through the Sahela border crossing into Iraq’s northern province of Dohuk.

US Defense Secretary Mark Esper said on Saturday that all of the nearly 1,000 troops withdrawing from northern Syria are expected to move to western Iraq to continue the campaign against Daesh militants and “to help defend Iraq.”

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan has warned that Ankara will resume its military assault in Syria when the deadline expires if the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) have not pulled back from its proposed “safe zone” area spanning the border.

Erdogan has also said Turkey will set up a dozen observation posts in the planned “safe zone.” A witness in the region said Turkish forces had already begun establishing two such posts on Sunday, drawing criticism from Iran on Monday.

“We are against Ankara’s establishing of military posts in Syria,” Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi told a weekly news conference broadcast live on state TV.

“The issues should be resolved by diplomatic means ... Syria’s integrity should be respected,” said Mousavi, whose country is a staunch ally of Syrian President Bashar Assad.

Turkey launched its offensive after Trump announced he was withdrawing US troops from northeastern Syria. Trump’s move was criticized in Washington and elsewhere as a betrayal of Kurdish allies who had fought for years alongside US troops against Daesh.

However, Trump is now leaning in favor of a new military plan to keep about 200 US troops in eastern Syria near the Iraq border, the New York Times said late on Sunday. The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Ankara is seeking to set up the “safe zone” as a buffer as it regards the YPG militia, the main component of the SDF, a terrorist group because of its links to Kurdish insurgents in southeast Turkey. The YPG has been a close US ally in the fight against Daesh.

On Sunday, the SDF said they had withdrawn from the border town of Ras Al-Ain under the US-brokered cease-fire deal, but a spokesman for Turkish-backed Syrian rebels said the withdrawal was not yet complete.

US troops have crossed into the semi-autonomous Kurdistan Region of Iraq, an Iraqi Kurdish security source told Reuters on Monday.

About 30 trailers and Hummers carrying heavier duty equipment crossed, with troops in cars coming through, the source added. A second security source in Mosul also said US troops had crossed into Iraq from Sahela.

The US pullout has also created a vacuum that Russia, Assad’s most powerful backer, has looked to fill. Syrian and Russian forces, invited by Kurdish authorities, last week entered the two border cities of Manbij and Kobani vacated by US troops.

Erdogan has backed rebels fighting to oust Assad in the eight-year Syrian conflict, but has said Turkey had no problem with Syrian government forces deploying near the border if the YPG militia were removed.

At a planned meeting on Tuesday in the Russian city of Sochi, Erdogan and Russian President Vladimir Putin will discuss the issue of YPG withdrawal from Manbij and Kobani, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on Sunday.

While Erdogan and Putin have close ties on defense and energy, Moscow has called the Turkish offensive into Syria “unacceptable” and said it should be limited.


Iran condemns US show of support for ‘rioters’

Updated 18 November 2019

Iran condemns US show of support for ‘rioters’

  • Protests erupted in Iran on Friday, hours after it was announced the price of petrol would rise to 15,000 rials a liter
  • ‘The dignified people of Iran know well that such hypocritical remarks do not carry any honest sympathy’

TEHRAN: Iran condemned the United States’ support for “rioters” in a statement issued late Sunday, after two days of violent protests in the Islamic republic against a petrol price hike.
The foreign ministry said that it was reacting to US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s “expression of support... for a group of rioters in some cities of Iran and condemned such support and interventionist remarks.”
Protests erupted in Iran on Friday, hours after it was announced the price of petrol would rise to 15,000 rials a liter (12 US cents) from 10,000 for the first 60 liters and to 30,000 rials for any extra fuel bought after that each month.
In a tweet on Saturday, Pompeo said in response to the demonstrations that “the United States is with you.”
Iran’s foreign ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi slammed his comments in Sunday night’s statement.
“The dignified people of Iran know well that such hypocritical remarks do not carry any honest sympathy,” Mousavi was quoted as saying.
“The acts of a rioter and saboteur group supported by the likes of (Pompeo) have no congruity with the conduct of the wise Iranian people.”
The statement blasted Washington’s “ill-intent” over its decision to reimpose sanctions on Tehran after the US withdrawal in May last year from the landmark 2015 Iran nuclear deal.
“It’s curious that the sympathizing is being done with the people who are under the pressure of America’s economic terrorism,” Mousavi said.