RIYADH, Feb 18, (Agencies): Any participation by Saudi forces in a US-led ground operation in Syria would focus on fi ghting the Islamic State group not President Bashar al-Assad, Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister told AFP on Thursday. “Saudi Arabia has expressed its readiness to send special forces to Syria as part of the coalition, with the goal of eliminating DAESH. This is the mission and the responsibility,” Adel al-Jubeir said, using an Arabic acronym for IS.
Riyadh has been a fierce opponent of Assad, but Jubeir said any participating Saudi force would make the battle against IS the priority. “For now the objective of any ground forces or special forces would be to fight DAESH on the ground in order to seize territory from them,” he said.
“If they enter Syria, these forces will work in the framework of the international coalition to fight DAESH, there will be no unilateral operations,” he said.
Asked if the mission could be expanded to include operations against Assad’s forces, Jubeir said: “This would be something the international coalition would have to make a decision on.” Saudi Arabia backs rebel forces fighting Assad and insists he must leave office for the country’s conflict to be resolved.
Elsewhere, an Iraqi court sentenced 40 captured members of Islamic State to death on Thursday for the killing of hundreds of soldiers after their capture by the ultra-radical militant group as it swept across northern Iraq in 2014, a judicial spokesman said.
The slaughter of 1,700 soldiers after they fled from an ex-US army base outside the northern city of Tikrit has become a symbol of Islamic State’s brutality and the Sunni insurgent group’s sectarian hatred of Iraq’s Shi’ite Muslim majority.
A Baghdad criminal court issued the death sentences based on what Abdul- Sattar al-Birqdar, spokesman for Iraq’s Supreme Judicial Council, said were convictions on terrorism charges.
Seven defendants were acquitted and freed for lack of evidence. Security forces arrested dozens of suspects over the mass killing of the soldiers after retaking Tikrit from Islamic State last year. Twenty-four were convicted and sentenced to death last July, and are awaiting decisions on their appeals. There are more than 600 suspects in all, judicial officials say.
London-based rights watchdog Amnesty International denounced the trial leading to the death penalties, saying it was “fundamentally flawed” and had displayed “a reckless disregard for justice and human life”. Amnesty said the total number of people sentenced to die in Iraq so far this year had risen to almost 100.