BAGHDAD – Syrian Prime Minister Mohammed Naji Otri arrived in Baghdad on April 21 for a two-day visit aimed at strengthening regional relations. He was scheduled to meet with his Iraqi counterpart, Nouri Al-Maliki, and other senior Iraqi officials. Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari said the main topic of discussion was commercial and economic ties.
Analysts viewed the visit as an indication of a warming up of once-chilly relations between the two neighbours, even though Iraqi officials were expected to pursue discussions about the fate of former Iraqi leaders exiled in Damascus who are conspiring against the Shiite-led Iraqi government.
Relations between Syria and Iraq have been tense over the past several decades and tensions increased after the outbreak of the war in 2003, with Iraq criticising Syria for allowing foreign fighters to cross into the country via their northern border.
Even prior to 2003, relations between the neighbouring countries were only lukewarm, especially after Saddam Hussein took power in 1979, as Syria was ruled by a wing of the Baath Party hostile to the one in Iraq. Syria subsequently aided Iran, Iraq’s greatest enemy, in the eight-year war the two countries fought from 1980 to ’88.
Syria and Iraq re-established diplomatic relations in 2006, thus ending a 24 year freeze that began in 1982 when Damascus first accused Baghdad of inciting unrest in Syria.
The two prime ministers confirmed that they would discuss the reopening of Iraqi pipelines to the Mediterranean Sea, with the goal of increasing oil export lines between the two countries. They hoped to reach an agreement to reopen the oil pipeline that has been subject to neglect ever since gunmen damaged large parts of it following Saddam’s fall from power in 2003.
Sources: AFP/Al-Sumaria Newspaper/Gulf News Newspaper/Reuters