U.S. officials say there are indications that Syria launched airstrikes into western Iraq Tuesday in an attempt to slow the al-Qaida-inspired insurgency fighting both the Syrian and Iraqi governments.
Officials said the strikes appeared to be the work of Syrian President Bashar Assad’s government, which is locked in a bloody civil war with opposition groups. The target of the attacks was the extremist group Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, which has been fighting along with the rebels opposed to Assad and has since moved swiftly across the border into Iraq.
The White House said intervention by Syria was not the way to stem the insurgents, who have taken control of several cities in northern and western Iraq.
“The solution to the threat confronting Iraq is not the intervention of the Assad regime, which allowed ISIL to thrive in the first place,” said Bernadette Meehan, a National Security Council spokeswoman. “The solution to Iraq’s security challenge does not involve militias or the murderous Assad regime, but the strengthening of the Iraqi security forces to combat threats.”
Another U.S. official said Iran has been flying surveillance drones in Iraq. The officials spoke only on grounds of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to discuss the issue publicly.
In an unusual twist for the long-time foes, the U.S. and Iran find themselves with an overlapping interest in stabilizing Iraq’s government. However, while Iran wants to preserve Shiite control of Iraq’s government, the U.S. is pressing leaders in Baghdad to create a more inclusive political system.
U.S. and Iranian officials have had some direct discussions on the matter, though the Obama administration has ruled out the prospect of direct military involvement.
The U.S. is also conducting aerial surveillance over Iraq and is dispatching about 300 military advisers to Baghdad and elsewhere to help train Iraqi security forces