Lebanese army sources revealed that about 4,000 Syrian troops were preparing to withdraw from the northern Batroun region of Lebanon to Syria. The redeployment is believed to have been ordered by Damascus to improve diplomatic relations with the US, which have cooled considerably since the beginning of the year. Washington has repeatedly called for a full withdrawal of the 20,000 Syrian troops that remain in the country, under the terms of the 1989 Taif agreement that marked the end of the Lebanese civil war.
To the east, the movement into northern Iraq of a 5,000-strong Shia opposition force backed by Iran is less likely to win favour with the US. The troops, led by members of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq (Sciri), moved from their traditional stronghold in southern Iraq to an area controlled by the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, with which they have a long-standing military alliance. Iranian officials said the redeployment was a precaution against possible cross-border attacks by Iraqi forces. The movement appears to have come as a surprise to the US, which has been engaged in talks with Sciri about its possible role in a post-conflict Iraqi government. The group is understood to have been urged not to intervene during a US invasion.
Washington has become increasingly concerned by the advance of Kurdish forces in the north of Iraq and Shia forces in the south. Another potential complication is the presence of several thousand Turkish troops in the north. Turkey has been asked to remain on the sidelines of a conflict, but Ankara harbours fears about Kurdish attempts to set up an autonomous state in the event of a conflict, the safety of the Turkoman minority in Iraq and a possible influx of refugees over its eastern border.