Syria declares its readiness in efforts to fight jihadists
BAGHDAD — Syria’s foreign minister said Monday that his government was ready to cooperate with international efforts to fight the extremists of the Islamic State. But in a nod to the possibility of expanded U.S. airstrikes, he warned that any action inside Syria without the government’s approval would be considered “aggression.”
The offer by the minister, Walid al-Moallem, appeared to be a preliminary effort to rehabilitate the international standing of his government, which has been condemned by the United States and others for its brutal tactics in the country’s civil war and against the popular uprising that preceded it.
In comments to reporters in Damascus, al-Moallem seemed well aware of how greatly the rise of Islamic State in both Syria and Iraq had changed Western views toward the region. He presented his government as the natural partner in the fight against jihadist groups.
“Syria is prepared to cooperate and coordinate regionally and internationally to fight terrorism,” he said, stipulating that all efforts had to go through the Syrian government.
Western alarm about Islamic State, the extremist group that controls a swath of territory across the Syria-Iraq border, has spiked since it released a video showing an Islamic State fighter beheading American journalist James Foley last week.
Al-Moallem condemned the killing of Foley and suggested that a failed raid into Syria by U.S. special operations forces seeking to free him could have succeeded with Syrian government help.
“If there had been coordination beforehand, I tell you that the chance of failure would have been weak,” he said.
The United States has been conducting airstrikes on Islamic State positions in Iraq — an effort that officials have suggested could extend into Syria. Last week, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, said that Islamic State could not be defeated in Iraq without attacks on its bases in Syria.
Responding to that possibility, al-Moallem said any such strikes launched unilaterally would be considered an act of war.
“Any violation of Syrian sovereignty from any side is aggression,” he said.
Anti-government activists have long accused the Syrian government of allowing Islamic State to expand because its presence helped them in the civil war: Islamic State was good at killing rebels and strengthened the government’s argument that it was facing a terrorist plot, not a popular uprising.
But as Islamic State has overshadowed the rebel movement, it has increasingly fought the government directly, often winning.