May 31 (UPI) -- Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said in a rare interview broadcast Thursday the United States should follow Iraq and withdraw its forces from his country.
In the interview with Russia Today, the controversial Syrian leader said U.S. officials have "lost its cards" and should learn the same lesson Iraq did.
His comments followed remarks by U.S. President Donald Trump this week that called Assad an animal, prompting the leader to respond, "What you say is what you are" and say U.S. forces could face danger if they don't leave.
Assad also said Russia deterred the West from launching a devastating country-wide airstrike last month -- and that Damascus has nearly won the seven-year civil war against rebel factions supported by the U.S. government.
"With every move forward for the Syrian Army, and for the political process, and for the whole situation, our enemies and our opponents, mainly the West led by the United States and their puppets in Europe and in our region, they try to make it farther -- either by supporting more terrorism, bringing more terrorists to Syria, or by hindering the political process," Assad said. "Our challenge is how can we close this gap between their plans and our plans."
Assad accused the United States of acting out of desperation in Syria, saying the response in April to the suspected chemical attack in Douma was a last-ditch effort to sway international opinion.
"They told a story, they told a lie, and the public opinion around the world and in the West didn't buy their story, but they couldn't withdraw. So, they had to do something, even on a smaller scale," he said of the April 14 airstrikes by U.S., British and French forces.
In Thursday's interview, Assad praised Russia for averting a direct military confrontation with the United States over the issue.
"We were close to have direct conflict between the Russian forces and the American forces, and fortunately, it has been avoided, not by the wisdom of the American leadership, but by the wisdom of the Russian leadership," he said. "We need the Russian support, but we need at the same time to avoid the American foolishness in order to be able to stabilize our country."
Assad also promised victory in his regime's years-long fight against Islamic State militants in Syria, saying the terrorists have a "dark ideological plan" that can be countered only with force.
"The more escalation we have, the more determined we'll be to solve the problem, because you don't have any other choice; either you have a country or you don't have a country," he said.