Syrian Kurdish Leader Signals Possible Joint Action With Iraq

The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, which the Kurdish YPG militia spearheads, has been the main partner of the U.S.-led coalition against Islamic State in Syria

In this Friday, Dec. 18, 2009 file photo, a member of the Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, trains on a weapon at their camp in the Qandil mountains near the Turkish border with northern Iraq
AP Photo/Yahya Ahmed, File

A top Syrian Kurdish politician suggested on Wednesday that the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and the Iraqi government could mount joint operations against Islamic State in the area on the border of the two countries.

Aldar Xelil warned of a jihadist revival in eastern Syria, where operations by the U.S.-backed SDF have tapered off since they diverted fighters to the northwest to fight a Turkish offensive.

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"Iraq is a neighbouring state and is also suffering from Daesh terrorism," he said in a telephone interview with Reuters, using the Arabic acronym for Islamic State.

"Daesh is present in the shared area between us, and this points to the possibility of conditions arising that would pave the way for joint actions against Daesh," he said.

Xelil is co-chair of the Movement for a Democratic Society, a coalition of mainly Syrian Kurdish parties, and an architect of plans for autonomy in northern Syria.

The SDF, which the Kurdish YPG militia spearheads, has been the main partner of the U.S.-led coalition against Islamic State in Syria, helping drive the jihadists out of swathes of northern and eastern Syria last year.

But its operations against Islamic State have been sidetracked since Turkey, backed by allied Syrian insurgents, mounted an invasion in northwestern Syria targeting the YPG-controlled Afrin region of the northwest.

The SDF sent fighters to Afrin from other areas, and the U.S.-led coalition has said this resulted in limited offensive operations against Islamic State.

Turkey views the YPG militia as a terrorist group and a threat to its national security. Turkey and its Syrian militia allies captured Afrin town last month, leading the YPG to declare a new phase of guerrilla war in the northwest.

Xelil said the shift in tactics away from direct confrontation meant fewer fighters were needed in the northwest.

"The number has reduced a lot," he said. "The surplus number will head to the other areas to strengthen the defence of these areas," against Islamic State and "any other threat".

"After Afrin, Daesh has revived and has started to expand in the region, and has benefited a lot from the vacuum," Xelil said. "This is a danger we are thinking about, and we are tying to fine the appropriate means to take measures against the expansion of Daesh," he said.

President Donald Trump agreed in a National Security Council meeting on Tuesday to keep U.S. troops in Syria a little longer but wants them out relatively soon, a senior administration official said on Wednesday.