March 19, 2019
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad met with a joint Iraqi-Iranian military delegation headed by Chief of General Staff of the Iranian Armed Forces Maj. Gen. Mohammad Hossein Baqeri and Chief of Staff of the Iraqi Armed Forces Gen. Othman Al-Ghanimi March 18 in Damascus.
“Meeting with the Iranian and Iraqi military delegations reflects the fact that Baghdad and Tehran have a common enemy, as well as a common battlefield,” the Islamic Republic’s Arabic speaking TV, Al Alam, cited Assad as saying.
Gen. Baqeri (Bagheri) who visited Syria last October insisted that fighting in Syria is necessary for Iran’s security.
“This terrorism poses a threat to all of us since it targets the region as a whole. It requires the states and peoples of the region to coordinate their efforts to combat terrorism,” he said.
The general denounced what he described as the “illegal” presence of foreign forces in Syria’s Idlib region and the eastern side of the Euphrates, adding, “U.S. forces should leave Syria as soon as possible.”
Iran’s role in crushing opposition to Assad has been crucial and hundreds of forces sent by Iran have died fighting, including several high-ranking generals.
The United States and Israel view Iran’s involvement in Syria and Iraq in a different light. Washington insists that Iran pursues an expansionist policy to spread mayhem in the region, while Israel deems Iran’s military presence in Syria as a serious threat to its security.
Idlib, northwest Syria, is mainly under the control of an extremist group called Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (Organization for the Liberation of the Levant, or Levant Liberation Committee), commonly referred to as Tahrir al-Sham and abbreviated HTS, also known as al-Qaeda in Syria. It is a Salafist jihadist militant group involved in the Syrian Civil War.
Currently, a ceasefire is in effect Idlib under the supervision of Russia and Turkey, which have declared it a “safe area.”
Before leaving Tehran for Damascus on Sunday, Baqeri had also stressed that one of the main issues to be emphasized in the meeting with his Iraqi and Syrian counterparts is that “the forces that are present in Syria without coordination with its government will be leaving the Syrian soil sooner or later.”
“Just as Iran is in Syria at the official invitation of the Syrian government, the presence of forces of other countries should also be arranged with and permitted by the Syrian government,” the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC)-run Tasnim news agency quoted Baqeri as saying.
In tandem with its own military personnel in Syria, the Islamic Republic has recruited citizens of Afghanistan, Pakistan, and other countries to serve in military units in Syria, including in the Liwa Fatemiyoun (Fatemiyoun Division), a division made up mainly of Hazara Afghan refugees living in Iran, and the Liwa Zainebiyoun (Followers of Zainab Brigade) composed of Pakistani immigrants.
Meanwhile, following a meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu February 28, Russian President Vladimir Putin said that a task force would be formed to coordinate the withdraw of all foreign troops from Syria. Netanyahu had traveled to Moscow to discuss Tel Aviv’s concern over the Islamic Republic’s attempts to shore up its military presence in Syria.
Furthermore, Russian authorities have repeatedly insisted that Iran’s forces should leave Syria