Russia condemns US airstrikes on Syria

The Nation  |  Feb 26, 2021

On Thursday night, the Pentagon confirmed reports that it had carried out strikes against "Iran-backed" militia assets in eastern Syria, and claimed that the strikes were conducted in response to recent attacks on US forces in Iraq. President Joe Biden is said to have personally ordered the strikes.

Russia "strongly condemns" the US' Thursday night attack along the Syrian-Iraqi border, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova has said.

"We strongly condemn such actions. We call for unconditional respect for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Syria. We reaffirm our rejection of any attempts to turn Syrian territory into an arena for the settling of geopolitical scores," Zakharova said, speaking at a briefing in Moscow on Friday.

Earlier, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters that Russia was "very closely monitoring the situation" following the strikes, and that Moscow is "in constant contact with our Syrian colleagues."

Peskov also said that he had no information about whether the US notified the Russian side about its planned strikes, because such information is passed through the military-to-military contacts.

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On Friday morning, the Iranian Students News Agency reported that Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and his Syrian counterpart Faisal Mikdad had spoken by telephone on cooperation between the two countries and outstanding problems in the region. The discussions reportedly included the diplomats stressing the need for Western powers to comply with UN Security Council resolutions on Syria.

The Pentagon released a statement late Thursday confirming earlier reports that the US had carried out airstrikes inside Syrian territory. The statement said the strikes, conducted at President Joe Biden's behest, targeted multiple facilities used by Shia militant groups, including Kata'ib Hezbollah and Kata'ib Sayyid al-Shuhada. 

Both groups were extensively involved in the Baghdad-led, Iran- and US-assisted war against Daesh (ISIS)* between 2014 and 2017 and remain formally allied to the Iraqi government.

The Pentagon called the strikes a "proportionate military response" in the wake of rocket attacks on US forces in Iraq by unknown assailants. Last week, a civilian contractor was killed and three others, including a US soldier, were injured in a rocket attack on a military base used by US forces in Erbil, Iraq. White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the US "reserves the right to respond in the time and manner of our choosing" to the attack. Another attack hit Baghdad's so-called Green Zone, where the US Embassy is located, earlier this week. A separate rocket attack was carried out against the Balad Air Base north of Baghdad on 20 February.

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The Trump administration similarly blamed Kata'ib Hezbollah for attacks on US forces in late 2019, and responded by striking the militia's positions in eastern Syria and western Iraq, before assassinating Iranian military commander Qasem Soleimani in Baghdad in January 2020. The latter action prompted Iran to lob over a dozen ballistic missiles at two US bases in Iraq, and brought the region to the brink of a major war before both sides agreed to deescalate.

Later, Iraqi intelligence and military personnel told US media that the original attack on US forces was likely carried out by Daesh remnants, not Kata'ib Hezbollah.

The US hit on Soleimani, which also killed Shia militia commander Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, prompted Iraq's parliament to issue a resolution demanding the withdrawal of US forces from Iraq. The Trump administration gradually pulled back forces and handed bases back to Iraqi control, leaving office with 2,500 troops apiece in both Iraq and Afghanistan. Biden appeared to reverse the withdrawal decision in both cases, scrapping plans to fully withdraw US troops from Afghanistan by May. Last week, NATO secretary-general Jens Stolenberg announced that the alliance would beef up its Iraq presence eightfold, from 500 troops to 4,000.

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