RABIAA, Iraq (AP) — Iraqi President Barham Saleh discussed Wednesday the situation in northern Syria with a visiting U.S. official saying they focused on ways to prevent Islamic militants from taking advantage of the chaos to rise again.
There have been concerns in Iraq that the Turkish military operation against Kurdish fighters in northern Syria might affect the protection of prisons there, where some 10,000 IS members are being held.
IS once held large parts of Iraq and Syria, where the extremists declared a so-called caliphate in 2014. IS was defeated in Iraq two years ago and in Syria in March but the extremists' sleeper cells have continued to carry out attacks in both countries.
A statement by Saleh's office said he spoke Wednesday in Baghdad with David Schenker, U.S. assistant secretary of state for near eastern affairs, about ways of supporting Iraq to preserve its security "amid the current challenges."
The statement said both officials said the extremists should not be given a chance "to revive their criminal activities and threaten the region and world's security."
Schenker later held talks with Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi during which they also spoke about the situation in Syria.
Also on Wednesday, Iraq's defense minister expressed concerns that IS might take advantage of Turkey's offensive in northern Syria to destabilize Iraq saying his government should work quickly on sealing the border.
Najah al-Shammari told a group of journalists that toured the Iraq-Syria border with him that some IS members were able escape from jails and camps in Syria without giving a number.
He said some IS members were able to flee northern Syria and cross into Iraq. The Iraqi official added that some of them are still at large while others were detained.
Al-Shammari on Wednesday visited the Rabiaa border crossing that links Iraq with northern Syria, expressing concerns that IS fighters might try to flee prisons where they are held as Kurdish fighters turn their focus on advancing Turkish troops.
"The Iraqi government should act quickly to close illegal crossings between Iraq and Syria," al-Shammari said.
Associated Press writer Qassim Abdul-Zahra contributed to this report from Baghdad.