Iran: ‘We won’t coordinate with US on Syria’

Iran’s supreme leader pledged no coordination with US after ISIS pushed back US-backed forces in Syria

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Iran will never coordinate with the United States in Syria and other regional conflicts, supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said in remarks published on his website Sunday after US-backed forces struggled to advance in ISIS stronghold of Manbij in Syria.

“We don’t want such a coordination as their main objective is to stop Iran’s presence in the region,” Khamenei said in a transcript from a speech to university students.

Iran and Russia support Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s fight against armed rebels and jihadists, including those of ISIS.

Tehran rejects any coordination with the US-led coalition that is also bombing the jihadists in Syria and Iraq.

Khamenei repeated demands for the US to stop interfering in the region and said Washington was still acting aggressively despite last year’s nuclear accord with world powers to end Iran's isolation.

“Americans are still engaged in hostility against the nation of Iran, be it the Congress or the US administration,” he said.

Iran complains it has not benefited from the nuclear deal since it came into force in January, with international banks still fearful of doing business with Tehran due to remaining US sanctions.

“Those who believe in looking to the West for the progress of the country have lost their minds because wisdom tells us to learn from experience,” Khamenei said.

ISIS repels Syrian rebels

Meanwhile, ISIS militants on Saturday pushed back US-backed forces trying to advance into their stronghold of Manbij for the first time since a major offensive to capture the city and cut off the militants’ main strategic access route to Turkey, a monitoring group and Kurdish sources said.

The Syria Democratic Forces (SDF), comprised of Kurdish and Arab fighters and backed by the air power of a US-led coalition to fight ISIS and aided by US Special Forces, have been involved in the month-long Manbij operation aimed to seal off their last stretch of Syrian-Turkish frontier.

The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights confirmed the militants had evicted SDF troops from a main district south of the city which has been the scene of heavy fighting after suicide bombers blew up an explosive-laden car.

The militants also recaptured a village northwest of the city.

An SDF spokesman, however, denied reports they had pulled back from positions inside the city and said the campaign to uproot the militants would continue until they “liberated Manbij.”

“I stress that we have not retreated any step and all our positions are under our control,” Sharfan Darwish, spokesman for the SDF-allied Manbij Military Council, said in a statement.

The US-backed forces have been bogged down in fighting in the northern and southern outskirts of the city after rapid advances that began with the capture of dozens of villages around the city until they surrounded it from all sides.

Progress in storming the city has been slow with the militants using snipers, planting mines and preventing civilians from leaving, hampering US airpower’s ability to bomb the city without causing large casualties, Kurdish sources said.

Fighting was mainly focused near a major grain silo complex south of the city that had been hit by US-led coalition jets.

Manbij’s loss would be a big blow to the militants as it is of strategic importance, serving as a conduit for transit of foreign extremists and provisions coming from the Turkish border.

Brett McGurk, US President Barack Obama’s special envoy in the fight against ISIS, said on Tuesday once the operation in northern Syria is completed, it would create the conditions to move on the militant group’s de facto capital of Raqqa. US officials have anticipated a tough battle ahead.

The Manbij operation marks the most ambitious advance by a group allied to Washington in Syria since the United States launched its military campaign against ISIS two years ago.

(With AFP, Reuters)

Watch: Experts: Iran claims thwarting ISIS plots linked to its fight in Iraq, Syria