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Syria Slams U.S. Anti-IS Coalition, Proposes 'International Counterterrorism Forum'

Syrian Justice Minister Najm al-Ahmad made his remarks at a conference on combating terrorism and religious extremism in Damascus on December 1.

Syrian Justice Minister Najm al-Ahmad made his remarks at a conference on combating terrorism and religious extremism in Damascus on December 1.

Syria's Justice Minister Najm al-Ahmad sharply criticized the U.S.-led coalition against the Islamic State (IS) militant group in Syria, while proposing the establishment of an international counterterrorism forum headquartered in Damascus.

Damascus has vehemently opposed the U.S.-led coalition against Islamic State in Syria on the grounds that the United States and its allies are carrying out air strikes on Syrian soil without the express consent of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad. As well as opposing the coalition on the grounds that it has effectively ignored the Assad government's sovereignty, Damascus fears that the coalition could extend its activities in Syria to include striking Syrian government targets.

Part of the Assad government's opposition to the U.S.-led coalition has involved slamming the air strikes against IS militants in Syria as illegal (since they are being carried out without Assad's consent), while claiming that the United States and its allies are ineffective in fighting the extremist group and terrorism in general. This position is the same as that of Damascus's strongest ally, Russia.

In his December 1 comments, made at an international conference on combating terrorism and religious extremism in Damascus, Ahmad accused the United States of "interfering in other states' affairs and breaching their sovereignty under the pretexts of humanitarianism and counterterrorism," according to state news outlet SANA.

Ahmad added that the "events in Syria and Iraq" were "organized terrorism backed by several countries."

Echoing Russia's position regarding the fight against Islamic State in Syria -- that any action in Syria should be carried out via the UN -- SANA reported that other participants at the Damascus conference had called for "a non-politicized definition of international terrorism that would be adopted by the UN Security Council."

A December 2 briefing by the Russian Foreign Ministry demonstrates the extent to which Moscow and Damascus are presenting a united line regarding the battle against Islamic State in Syria.

The Foreign Ministry briefing slammed the U.S.-led coalition, saying that it was ineffective against Islamic State militants but also that the coalition air strikes were harming civilians.

The coalition had carried out air strikes against Islamic State positions in Raqqa, the statement said, "without solving the issue of defeating the terrorists around Kobani on the Syria-Turkey border."

"It is difficult to determine who suffered from [the air strikes in Raqqa] more: IS or the civilians who are 'caught between two fires'. In any case, without coordination with the government in Damascus, the prerequisites for the speedy liberation of this city are non-existent...In this situation Moscow sees its role as continuing to support Damascus in the fight against terrorism, while pushing for a political solution," the statement continued.

The Foreign Ministry statement came after Russian President Vladimir Putin insisted that Assad has enough popular support.

"After all, there were elections. There are various ways to consider them but they showed that the incumbent president Assad has quite a lot of support among the Syrian population," Putin said on December 1.

Assad was declared the landslide winner in the June elections, which were widely criticized by the West and Syrian opposition groups as a sham.

-- 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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