It may have taken an external threat to bring the two together, but Iraq and Syria re-established official contacts after 20 years of frozen relations. In late February, Iraqi diplomats arrived in Damascus and opened an Iraqi interest section at the Algerian embassy. Shortly thereafter, Syria reciprocated by sending representatives to Baghdad to establish a similar presence. Such developments reflect an important step forward for these historical adversaries.
While Iraq and Syria have long held common commercial interests, it took a shared water dispute with Turkey for the two countries to cooperate at an official level. Turkey has been constructing its $32 billion Southeast Anatolia Project (GAP) that comprises 22 dams on the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. It is also planning to build the Ilisu Dam across the Tigris River, including a deep reservoir behind it. Such an initiative would greatly reduce the quantity of water that flows to the downstream states, Syria and Iraq. By developing diplomatic relations, Iraq and Syria aim to enhance their collective bargaining power against Turkey.
Internally in Iraq, a power struggle is emerging between Saddam Hussein’s two sons. Earlier this year, Iraq held parliamentary elections that resulted in Saddam’s eldest son, Udai, winning a seat with over 99 percent of the vote. It is a widely known fact that Saddam carefully controls local elections as well as his regime. Therefore, by handing Udai a potentially powerful position in the Iraqi government, the ongoing power struggle between Udai and his younger brother Qusai has intensified. Such a development may weaken the security apparatus that guards Saddam.
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