Syrian President Bashar Al Assad will visit Baghdad next month, sources at the Syrian Foreign Ministry told Albawaba.com on Thursday.
The landmark trip would be the second such visit by a top-ranking Arab leader since the eruption of the Gulf War more than 11 years ago.
The sources said Damascus was attempting to bring Baghdad back into the Arab and international arena, amid what it considers a growing danger from Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, as manifested in recurrent Israeli air attacks on Syrian forces in Lebanon.
The Syrian sources told Albawaba.com that the visit of Bashar Al Assad to Baghdad would be welcomed by his compatriots.
The sources brought up the volume of trade between the two countries, which has reached a billion dollars annually, in addition to other advantages that could come with the possible flow of Iraqi oil through Syrian territory.
Reports have said that the current trade volume stands at $500,000 and officials hope to push it to a billion.
Assad, who just wrapped a visit to Kuwait, this week received Iraqi Vice President Taha Yasin Ramadhan, who arrived in Damascus without announcing the trip beforehand.
Political sources are still talking about the possibility of secret Syrian mediation between Iraq and Kuwait regarding the emirate’s alleged prisoners of war in Iraq.
Kuwait has said on many occasions that it will not rebuild relations with Iraq, its former occupier, before the POWs issue is resolved.
Observers say Damascus is now more than ever in need of a strong Iraqi presence in the regional and international arena. This need has arisen in light of renewed military cooperation between Tel Aviv and Ankara.
Damascus views these ties as a threat, despite the reassurances of Turkey’s foreign minister, who used a recent trip to Cairo to proclaim that his country was siding with no particular country in the region.
Syria, observers say, may be turning towards Baghdad after seeing its influence in Lebanon fade. A number of former allies such as Druze leader Walid Jumblatt have joined forces with the Christian opposition to Syria’s troops presence in Lebanon.
However, Syria and Iraq have witnessed deep differences over the past two decades due to competition between the leaders of the ruling socialist Baath parties in both countries.
Many sources attribute the rivalry to a personal dispute between the late Syrian president Hafez Al Assad and his Iraqi counterpart, Saddam Hussein. This enmity reached its climax when the Iraqi armed forces participated in the international coalition that liberated Kuwait from Iraqi occupation in 1991.
The Syrian leadership under the late president Assad was slow to respond to persistent Iraqi overtures about normalizing ties, but Syrian sources say that Hafez Al Assad nevertheless contemplated the creation of a regional coalition grouping Damascus, Baghdad and Tehran as a response to Israeli policies and its ties with Turkey - Albawaba.com