May 27, 2015 / 1:40 PM / 4 years ago

Syria says wants more Iraqi coordination in Islamic State fight

BEIRUT (Reuters) - Damascus wants more coordination with Baghdad to combat Islamic State fighters who control land in both countries, Syria’s foreign minister said on Wednesday, days after the group seized a border crossing and overran a central Syrian city.

Residents walk in Palmyra city May 19, 2015. REUTERS/Stringer

Islamic State seized al-Tanf border crossing with Iraq last week and has taken over the desert city of Palmyra, the first time the group has captured a large population center directly from the Syrian military.

Though Damascus and Baghdad share a close relationship with Shi’ite Islamist Iran, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem’s comments indicated Damascus was not happy with the level of Iraqi cooperation in the fight against Islamic State.

Both countries realized they had to fight together, he said.

“But the coordination has not reached the threat level we are facing,” he told a joint news conference in Damascus with his Armenian counterpart Edward Nalbandian, who also met President Bashar al-Assad.

Baghdad is coordinating with U.S. forces to combat Islamic State, an al Qaeda offshoot which has taken territory from government forces in the north and west of the country. In Syria, U.S.-led warplanes are carrying out an aerial campaign which they say is not coordinated with the Syrian military and has focused on areas outside of government control.

However Syria says it has been informed of attacks ahead of time and has criticized the U.S.-led raids as ineffective, but has not opposed them.

Moualem also said support from Syria’s main allies Russia and Iran remained strong and that they would not hold back on helping Syria to remain “steadfast.”

Nalbandian is the third foreign minister to visit Damascus this year after trips by ministers from Iran and Belarus.

Syria hosts an Armenian population mainly in the north of the country and is also home to several Armenian churches. Both countries are hostile towards Turkey.

Syria blames its northern neighbor for funding and arming insurgents. Turkey has denied arming rebels or helping hardline Islamists. Armenia condemns Ankara for not recognizing what it says was a genocide by Ottoman Turks 100 years ago.

Moualem criticized Turkey for what he said were acts of aggression and for violating Syrian airspace.

He also dismissed comments by French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius on Tuesday in which he warned Iraq and Syria risked further division if international efforts to tackle Islamic State were not stepped up quickly.

“Our people are able to repel any attack and prevent any attempt to partition Syria,” he said. He said France, which supports the four-year uprising against Assad, had supported terrorism and was conspiring against Syria.

Reporting by Sylvia Westall and Tom Perry; Editing by Janet Lawrence

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