Iraq and Syria turn new page after 20 years of broken ties
The visit by Syrian Prime Minister Mustafa Miro to Iraq, the first by a premier from Damascus since ties were broken off in 1980, marks a new stage in improving ties between the two neighbors.
Miro's trip crowns efforts since 1997 by Iraq and Syria, governed by rival branches of the pan-Arab Baath party, to start to normaliZe relations after a 17-year break in ties. The two countries had been locked in hostility since Syria backed Iran in its 1980-1988 war with Iraq. Syria also fought in the 1991 international coalition that ousted Iraq from Kuwait after seven months of occupation.
Iraq, which has been under a sweeping UN trade embargo since invading Kuwait in 1990, signed a free trade accord with Syria effective from April 1, and both countries have set up trade offices in each other's capitals. The two countries have also opened diplomatic missions and cancelled visas for people traveling between the states.
While Miro's visit is dominated by economic matters, the timing of his trip, with the region gripped with tension over the Palestinian territories, lends it an important political dimension with both Iraq and Syria considered sworn enemies of Israel.
"Syrian-Iraqi talks come at a time of great tension in the region and we must close ranks in the face of Israeli threats," an Iraqi official, asking not to be named, told AFP. "Enemies will continue to harm the Arabs because they know what good relations between countries mean, especially Iraq and Syria, which surprised them," Iraqi President Saddam Hussein said in talks Saturday with Miro.
"We urgently need more Arab solidarity to face up to the hostile policy of Israel, which is trying to annihilate the intifada of the Palestinian people by force," Miro said. "Cooperation and coordination between Iraq and Syria serves the interests of both countries, boosts Arab solidarity and the position of the Palestinian people in the valiant intifada," the Syrian premier said.
Miro also delivered a letter from Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad to Saddam, stressing the "support of the Syrian people for Iraq and its solidarity with the fight to lift the unjust embargo" on Iraq. "All aggression against Iraq is an aggression against Syria," warned Miro, who is accompanied by a delegation of businessmen.
On the economic front, the two countries are set to sign a series of agreements to double bilateral trade to one billion dollars a year compared to $500 million currently. An Iraqi official announced in July that Baghdad will give priority to Syria, among others, in import contracts under the UN oil-for-food program for its support for Iraq in opposing US and British proposals to impose "smart" sanctions on Baghdad.
Syria and Iraq are examining plans to build a new oil pipeline, while the industry press said an old pipeline — closed since 1982 after the break in ties — was reopened last November. Damascus has explained to the US State Department that the old pipeline was only being "tested", while Baghdad said in March that it had become obsolete and needed to be replaced. ― (AFP, Baghdad)
by Kamal Taha
© Agence France Presse 2001
© 2001 Mena Report (www.menareport.com)