The Geopolitics of Syrian-Iraqi Relations | Middle East Policy Council
Syria supported Iran during the Iran-Iraq war of the s, breaking from most is transported through Syria to Hezbollah's stronghold in Lebanon's southeast. Iran is located in South West Asia. It is bound by Azerbaijan, Armenia, Turkmenistan and the Caspian Sea to the north, Afghanistan and Pakistan to the east, Iraq. Syria-Iraq Relations: State Construction and Deconstruction and the .. bly, revisionist bids by Israel ( invasion of Lebanon) and by Iraq.
In OctoberIraqi President Ahmed Hassan al-Bakr and Syrian President Assad began discussing the establishment of a united entity of both their countries which would forge closer economic, political and military ties that would more effectively challenge Israel in the region.
As one report from the time noted, both dictators vowed "to marry Iraq's army and oil wealth to Syria's front-line position in opposition to the American peace initiative and the Israeli-Egyptian peace talks".
Both dictators vowed 'to marry Iraq's army and oil wealth to Syria's front-line position in opposition to the American peace initiative and the Israeli-Egyptian peace talks' Furthermore, a joint committee was to be formed to establish "a formula for a joint defence pact that will provide a basis for total military unity" between the two countries.
This never came to be, since Bakr's then-vice-president, Saddam Hussein, the real leader of Iraq behind the scenes, seized power in a brutal purge on July 22,forcing Bakr into early retirement. Hussein justified his action as an essential step to foil a coup by the Syrian Baathists.
As Adeed Dawisha explains in his book Iraq: A Political History, Saddam sought to prevent a successful Iraq-Syria union since it could well have seen him destined to continue as little more than the deputy leader of Iraq - given that Hafez al-Assad was "older and more experienced, and whose stature in the Arab world could not be matched by" Saddam. Twitter Post By the end ofIraq-Syria relations were essentially suspended, with both sides withdrawing their diplomats from each other's capitals.
After Iraq launched a ground invasion of western Iran in SeptemberBaghdad became embroiled in a lengthy war with Tehran that lasted eight years and left about one-million dead in its wake. Given its antagonism towards Baghdad, Damascus became the only Arab country to support Iran in that war. In AprilSyria closed the Iraqi pipeline that ran through Syria to the port of Banias, costing the Iraqi economy billions of dollars. Walid Hamdoun, Syria's deputy prime minister at the time, called Hussein the "butcher of Baghdad" and a "traitor to the Arab cause".
Saddam fired back by claiming Assad's regime had abandoned "elementary values of Arab honour". This exchange underscored the deep-seated hostility between the two regimes. Hussein got his revenge on Syria for closing the Banias pipeline in a very roundabout way a few months later. Israel launched an enormous invasion a mere three days later, using that incident as its casus beli and shortly thereafter clashed with Syria there. Israel shot down nearly of Syria's air force jets over Lebanon's Beqaa Valley.
In MaySaddam said in an interview that Assad had acted "in a hostile way" towards Iraq, but nonetheless affirmed, "that does not make Syria an enemy as such".
- Iraq–Syria relations
- Syria and Iraq: One conflict or two?
Many other Arab states welcomed a rapprochement. Their meeting was cordial, with both leaders, among other things, agreeing to stop supporting covert efforts against each other's regimes and verbally attacking each other in their respective state-owned media mouthpieces. Saddam could not, however, compel Assad to end his alliance with Iran. It was not such a simple thing for Damascus to do. Assad argued that his country could no longer exert any influence over Tehran if it abandoned its alliance, which would have proven counterproductive.
Syria worried that if it ended up antagonising Iran it could face problems with Tehran's Shia proxies, primarily Hizballah, in neighbouring Lebanon. Furthermore, Iran was supplying Syria's economy with badly needed discounted oil. Even with all this being the case, Assad also opposed any collapse of Iraq brought on by an Iranian victory in the war, fearing it could unleash sectarian violence that could eventually spillover into Syria. He even implied that were Iran to advance too deep into Iraq "it might push Syria back into the Arab fold".
The April meeting did lead to a brief thaw. During the following summer, a Syrian MiG fighter jet accidentally strayed into Iraqi airspace and was promptly shot down. Syria lamented the incident saying it was "unjustified", but it did not lead to any increase in tensions. As analysts noted at the time, had it happened before the April meeting in Jordan it could have had a dramatically different outcome.
At the end offurther signs of a thaw were marked by trade talks between the two, with Syrian nationals visiting Baghdad for the first time since they were banned a few years earlier.
That thaw ultimately proved short-lived. By the two sides would once again be at each other's throats. It was not such a simple thing for Damascus to do Baghdad sought to isolate Damascus at the Arab League Summit by calling for its withdrawal from Syria in favour of a combined Arab peace force. Syrian Foreign Minister Farouk Charaa reportedly retorted: In the summer ofclashes between Aoun and the Syrians "reached levels that shocked the most war-hardened Lebanese".
With the Iran-Iraq war over, Saddam had more resources freed up to focus on trying to fight this proxy war with Syria in Lebanon. This proved short-lived, since the Iraqi dictator would soon thereafter make the critical blunder of invading Kuwait, bringing the wrath of the United States upon him. Iraq's annexation of Kuwait in August essentially was the death knell of the pan-Arabism ideology which Baathism sought to promulgate. Also, by choosing to confront the US, Saddam led Iraq into a war that saw a large part of its military pulverised and its ability to threaten its neighbours hugely reduced.
Instead, it joined the US-led coalition and sent troops to assist in its efforts to expel Iraq from Kuwait. Throughout the rest of the s, another significant thaw in Iraqi-Syrian relations would gradually come into being. As early as Marchlittle over a year after the Gulf War ended, there was some talk of conducting limited trade between the two states, something Iraq direly needed since it was suffering under a crippling United Nations economic embargo.
In Junethe two began opening border crossings for trade for the first time since Tariq Aziz even visited Damascus in November and appealed for Syrian help in getting the crippling embargo on Iraq lifted. As the century came to an end, bilateral relations gradually improved. Syria even helped Iraq circumvent the embargo by illegally importing crude oil at discounted prices for its own domestic use.
The civil war in Lebanon also increased the misunderstanding between Iraq and Syria. While Syria initially supported the leftist forces for ideological reasons, later it supported the Lebanese government and the rightist forces in order to maintain regional security and to keep good relations with the Christian population. Iraq then moved to support the leftists in order to circumscribe Syrian influence.
It was signed in by most Lebanese parliamentarians after General Aoun, commander of the Lebanese Army and one of two Lebanese "prime ministers," launched the War of Liberation against the Syrian forces stationed in Lebanon.
Aoun was an ally of Iraq, which provided him and other anti-Syrian forces with military equipment and heavy artillery. General Aoun was only removed inwhen Syria joined the U. Vice President Khaddam explained this time that there were political dimensions to such an exchange of visits, foremost among them the subversion of plans that would facilitate Iraq's isolation and subordination to Turkish designs and surrender to Israeli plans.
Syria has looked at Iraq from a pan-Arab perspective, not from a purely Syrian perspective. Syria did not want enmity between Iraqis and Syrians. Syrian Foreign Minister Faruq al-Sharaa viewed this visit as a Syrian initiative that might have an important impact on the future of regional politics. In Syrian thinking, the normalization of relations between Syria and Iraq would serve the interests of the two peoples as well as the other Arab countries, especially those that have been hurt by the Gulf War.
The Iraqi perspective is not much different from the Syrian.
Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz said that Iraq desired economic development with Syria in order to improve political rapprochement between the two countries since Iraq's stand had called for opening up to all Arab countries, even those with which Iraq had had conflicts. More important were the present and the future, because the entire Arab nation was under the same threats.
Thus, the Arabs need to find a new formula that would reflect realism in maintaining a minimum level of security. However, steps like the Oslo Accords, the Israeli-Jordanian treaty and the Israeli withdrawal from Lebanon are gradually reducing this role.
Israel, through other moves, like its alliance with Turkey, has increased pressure on Syria to sign a peace deal, which would weaken Syria's regional role. The developing relations between Turkey and Israel are alarming to both Syria and Iran.
A history of Iraq-Syria relations
They could lead to problems between Tehran and Ankara. Turkey's entente with Israel may also have emboldened the Turkish military to flex its muscles on issues such as the Kurds.
Iran's strategic alliance with Syria risks bringing Iran into conflict with Turkey on issues that are peripheral to Iran's national interests. On the other hand, Iraq is seen as a problem to Iran.
Iran and Iraq still engage in border skirmishes and low-level proxy wars. The entire region - the arc from Iraq, with the Shia in the south and Kurds further north, through the Kurdish regions and Turkey, Azerbaijan and Armenia, on through Afghanistan and Tajikistan - is one of overlapping ethnic disputes. Iran has been host to large numbers of refugees from its immediate neighbors to the west and east.
Also, any Iraqi government will distrust Shiite Iran's potential for influence in Iraq. Any Iraqi government may be tempted to use Iranian opposition elements as leverage against Tehran. And any government in Iraq may be tempted to fuel an economic recovery by flooding the oil market.
It is an attempt by Syria to pressure other countries, like the Gulf states, to halt the process of normalization with Israel. It also sends a political message to the United States, Turkey and Israel. Its primary objective is to prevent the isolation of Syria. More specifically, Syria's move towards Iraq reveals a need for: Thus, both Syria and Iraq have found themselves in a dire predicament that might lead them to cooperate in the face of common dangers, despite a history of turbulent relations.
In MarchTurkish troops penetrated 40 kilometers into northern Iraq, close to an oil pipeline whose rehabilitation Turkey and Iraq were negotiating to eliminate the Turkish Kurdish Worker's party PKK. Turkey called on the Iraqi government to send its troops to the north. However, Turkey changed its position under pressure from the United States, and, consequently, Iraq demanded the withdrawal of Turkish troops. A visit of the Turkish prime minister to Washington followed.
Syrian and Iranian fears were expressed, especially after Turkey accused Syria and Iran of giving safe haven to the fighters of the PKK. More alarmingly, Turkish troops were deployed on the Syrian-Turkish border, and threats were made about the Euphrates water against a background of collapsing peace talks between Syria and Israel. The meaningful development of Syrian-Iraqi relations is not only prevented by American threats but also because of deep suspicions between the two regimes.
Syria and Iraq: One conflict or two? | European Council on Foreign Relations
History testifies to the failure of the two states to reach even the lowest level of accord. Thus, Syrian overtures to Iraq cannot be seen as a Syrian strategy but simply represent a high level of dissatisfaction with current regional and international politics, especially those of the United States.
The Syrians also have failed to get Iraq included in any possible Arab summit without the consent of the Gulf states and the international community. Normalization of relations with Iraq is then a Syrian strategic maneuver to pressure international and regional actors to satisfy some of its demands, for Syria participated in the international alliance against Iraq and has entered into the peace process with Israel.
Thus normalization cannot but be a card played by the Syrians to buttress its regional role; the Syrians will not cross red lines. Still, Syria has been justifying its position by the ideology of the Baath, which rejects the dismemberment of Arab countries, in this case Iraq. Iraq has gone along with this, since it is desperate to reduce its isolation. The American presence in the Gulf has limited Iranian and Syrian influence over the Iraqi opposition and preempted any Iraqi change in favor of Syria.
Washington has aimed at isolating Iran and pressuring Syria to give concessions to the Israelis and limit its support of Hizbollah. However, on issues relating to regional security, Syria has been able to galvanize other countries into action.
When the Pentagon leaked a scenario for dividing Iraq into four regions, Syria was able to galvanize other countries to take part in the Tehran meeting between the foreign ministers of Syria, Iran and Turkey that issued a statement opposing any attempt to divide Iraq under any pretext because its division would lead to regional and international instability.
The direction of these relations wi11 hinge on Syria's strategic view of realities in the Arab world and the regional balance of power. For now, all possible fundamental and positive changes toward Iraq are on hold because they could lead to more economic and political pressure on Syria from the United States and Israel, which might transform the dual containment of Iraq and Iran into triple containment, to include Syria. Put simply, any Arab cooperation at a regional level that is perceived as a threat to Israel, even in the form of an Arab common market, will not be allowed to survive.
While Iran's power is based on its security, military and demographic factors, Iraq has focused more on Arab nationalism to supplement its geopolitical position.
Thus, Iraq raised the need to unify the eastern wing of the Arab world and gave itself the role of curbing Iranian ambition. This is not new. Since the rule of Abdulkarim Qasim, there have been extensive efforts to sell this idea, to the point where Baghdad clashed with Cairo and Damascus over it. This was, again, the cornerstone in Iraq's expensive war with Iran, There is talk today, according to senior Iraqi officials, that Iraq could probably benefit from the change in the political map of the Middle East.
The Geopolitics of Syrian-Iraqi Relations
There "are indicators we [Iraqis] have some room to maneuver, if we play our cards right," including the fact that Iraq is no longer a military threat to the Gulf states. What remains is improving relations with Turkey and Israel. Turkey plans to sell water from the Euphrates and the Tigris to the Arab world, including Syria and Iraq, the two downstream beneficiaries.
As to Israel, it has been rumored that Iraq is ready to sign a non-aggression treaty with Israel and to settle aboutPalestinians in Iraq as its contribution to ending the Middle East conflict. Earlier this year, the Iraqi government granted 60, Palestinians living in Iraq a limited right of home ownership.
Because of the need for Arab solidarity after the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, the six GCC states entered into an alliance with Syria and Egypt, but later developments showed the weakness of this six-plus-two alliance.
Since America has directly dominated the important security, political and economic affairs in the Gulf, the Damascus Declaration was never more than an informal meeting.
Syria was the ideological party in the alliance, being a "progressive" country ruled by the same Baath party that rules Iraq. The Baath party remained in control. Asad was elected president in While he brought stability to Syria, the country is suffering economic underdevelopment since spending on arms purchases has caused other sectors of the economy to lag behind in essential areas of economic growth, even in oil production and agriculture, the basic components of the economy, which are outdated and inefficient.
The slow pace of economic growth led to local and regional criticism of official Syrian economic policies. In the past, the Syrian economy depended on support from the Soviet Union and the Eastern bloc as well as the Gulf and oil revenues. In light of the late Syrian president's extreme reluctance to present free gifts to the Israelis, the Syrians were also bothered by the Israeli infiltration of the Gulf region.
Furthermore, Syrian policy was completely different from that of the GCC in other fields as well. While during the second Gulf war Syria officially stood against the Iraqi invasion and became a member of the Damascus Declaration, Syria managed to keep a delicate balance between its relations with the GCC and with Iraq. Like some other Arab countries, Syria participated in the Gulf War but it did not permit its forces to bomb or invade. Asad managed to strike a very delicate balance between his country's relations with the Gulf states and what he saw as his ideological commitments.
These commitments obliged the Syrian leader to reject Gulf states' requests that he silence or expel Damascus-based opposition groups. Anti-Oslo Palestinians and others can still engage in relatively free political activity from the safety of Syria. Marxists, nationalists, Islamists and Kurds.