Assad raises prospect of clash with US in Syria

Assad told RT that the end of the war was drawing closer with “every victory.”
Thursday 31/05/2018
In this file photo released May 10, 2018, by the Syrian official news agency SANA, Syrian President Bashar Assad speaks during an interview with the Greek Kathimerini newspaper, in Damascus, Syria. (SANA via AP)
Happier days ahead. In this file photo released May 10, 2018, by the Syrian official news agency SANA, Syrian President Bashar Assad speaks during an interview with the Greek Kathimerini newspaper, in Damascus, Syria. (SANA via AP)

TUNIS - Syrian President Bashar Assad has hinted at the possibility of clashes between his forces and those of the United States should the Western superpower not leave Syria.

During an interview with Russian state broadcaster RT on May 31, the Syrian autocrat pointed to the lessons of Iraq, vowing to recover territory where American troops have deployed, either through negotiations with Washington’s Syrian allies or directly by force.

Telling the broadcaster that his government had already opened the door to America’s allies within the Kurdish-dominated Syrian Democratic Forces, Assad said: “This is the first option. If not, we’re going to resort to… liberating those areas by force. We don’t have any other options, with the Americans or without the Americans,” he said. “The Americans should leave, somehow they’re going to leave.

“They came to Iraq with no legal basis and look what happened to them. They have to learn the lesson. Iraq is no exception and Syria is no exception. People will not accept foreigners in this region anymore,” he said.

The US-led 2003 invasion of Iraq was followed by an insurgency that has lasted years.

In April, US President Donald Trump said he wanted to withdraw American troops from Syria relatively soon, but also voiced a desire to leave a “strong and lasting footprint.”

However, muddying the waters somewhat were the subsequent comments by US Defence Secretary Jim Mattis. He told reporters on April 30 the United States and its allies would not want to withdraw from Syria before diplomats had won the peace.

Assad also appeared at pains to play down the support Syria has received from Iran. The Syrian president is under increasing pressure from Israel over Iran’s growing presence within his territory. Tehran, along with its allies in the Lebanese Shia militia Hezbollah operate a command structure separate from the Syrian government and have largely been left to operate unchecked within Syria. In recent months, Israel has ratcheted up the number of air strikes on alleged Hezbollah and Iranian positions and weapons depots inside Syria, sparking fears of a regional war.

During the interview, Assad told RT that Israeli strikes had produced no Iranian casualties, stressing that Tehran’s commitment to Syria was limited to its officers advising the Syrian army. “Actually, we had tens of Syrian martyrs and wounded soldiers,” Assad said.

However, this account is contradicted by the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights,  which monitors the war through a network of activists on the ground. It said at least 68 Iranian and pro-Iranian forces were killed by Israeli strikes during April alone.

Assad also reiterated his government’s denial of responsibility for the alleged April 7 chemical attack on the Damascus suburb of Douma, .

Asked whether he had a nickname for US President Donald Trump similar to the “animal” comment that Trump had tweeted after the alleged attack, Assad replied: “This is not my language, so I cannot use similar language. This is his language. It represents him, and I think there is a well-known principle, that what you say is what you are.”

The Syrian president also told RT that the end of the war was drawing closer with “every victory.” However, he accused his adversaries in the West and the region of trying to obstruct that and “hindering the political process.”