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Damascus Slams Turkey After Iraqi Peshmerga Militias Cross Into Syria

An Iraqi Kurd Peshmerga fighter flashes a victory sign as their convoy arrives at the Habur crossing along the Turkish-Iraqi border with heavy weapons on October 29.

An Iraqi Kurd Peshmerga fighter flashes a victory sign as their convoy arrives at the Habur crossing along the Turkish-Iraqi border with heavy weapons on October 29.

In an angry statement on October 30, Damascus accused the Turkish government of "blatant encroachment" on Syrian sovereignty and "flagrant intervention" in Syria's affairs.

The comments by the Syrian Foreign Ministry came in response to reports that a contingent of Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga fighters had crossed from Turkey into Syria to assist in the fight against Islamic State (IS) militants in Kobani.

Ten Iraqi Peshmerga fighters entered Kobani on October 30, according to Syrian opposition activists. The Iraqi Kurdish militias crossed into Syria via Turkey after Ankara finally authorized the Kurdish forces to cross its territory last week.

Damascus said the transfer of the Kurdish Peshmerga, which has been supported by the United States and its allies, was part of a "dangerous plot" concocted by the Turkish government.

"The Turkish government has unveiled its hostile intentions against Syria's unity and territorial integrity through its attempts to exploit the steadfastness of our people in Ayn al-Arab [the Arabic name for Kobani] to pass its expansionist plans by allowing in terrorist elements aided and abetted by it with the aim to establish a buffer zone in the Syrian territories," Syrian state media outlet SANA quoted the Foreign Ministry as saying.

The Syrian Foreign Ministry also accused Turkey of preventing Syrians who had fled to Turkey from Kobani from returning to the town to fight IS.

The statement is the latest of Damascus's public expressions of opposition for the U.S.-led coalition against IS in Syria, which the Assad government, backed by its allies Russia and Iran, has said is a violation of its sovereignty, because coalition forces are carrying out air strikes on Syrian territory without its permission.

In response to the coalition, Damascus has stressed that its army and air force are "fighting terrorists" -- a term the Assad government uses to refer not only to IS but also to all the armed opposition groups in Syria -- and that it is supporting the people of Kobani.

Syrian Strikes 'More Effective'

Syria's ambassador to Moscow, Riad Haddad, also criticized the U.S.-led coalition's efforts to combat IS, and insisted that the Syrian Air Force was also carrying out "more effective" air strikes against IS militants.

At a press conference in Moscow on October 30, Haddad said that Syrian forces were more effective against IS than the coalition air strikes. "The coalition says that it is fighting IS, but at the same time it is not fighting. It overlooks certain movements of IS forces, certain trucks that carry weapons from abroad, which fall into the hands of IS," Haddad said.

The Syrian ambassador said that the Syrian Air Force was also carrying out air strikes against IS and was causing greater losses to the extremist group. "Often the impact is greater than those of the coalition forces. Military operations are ongoing and the Syrian Army performs its tasks at a very high level," Haddad added.

Despite Damascus's outburst against the Peshmerga forces entering Syrian territory, and Haddad's boasts regarding Syria's gains against IS, the Syrian Arab Army and Air Force are not directly participating in the efforts to combat the militant group in Kobani.

Damascus has claimed that it is providing military support to Kurdish forces in Kobani. On October 27, SANA reported that the Assad government's support for Syrian Kurds is "known and documented and comprehensive." The report did not say when the Syrian government had provided the support, however; and Kurdish leaders in Kobani denied that Damascus had sent any aid.

In addition to Syrian Kurdish militias, there have also been reports that Syrian Arab rebels affiliated with the Free Syrian Army -- which Damascus also considers a terrorist group -- have arrived in Kobani to help efforts to combat IS.

While Damascus opposes IS, the Syrian government would hardly like to see Kobani even partly in control of the U.S.-backed Free Syrian Army.

-- Joanna Paraszczuk

About This Blog

"Under The Black Flag" provides news, opinion, and analysis about the impact of the Islamic State (IS) extremist group in Syria, Iraq, and beyond. It focuses not only on the fight against terrorist groups in the Middle East, but also on the implications for the region and the world. The blog's primary author, James Miller, closely covered the first three years of the Arab Spring, with a focus on Syria, and is now the managing editor of The Interpreter, where he covers Russia's foreign and domestic policy and the Kremlin's wars in Syria and Ukraine. Follow him on Twitter: @Millermena


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