After nearly a quarter-century of severed ties, Iraq on Tuesday resumed diplomatic relations with neighboring Syria — a move seen as a possible step toward stemming some of the unrelenting violence, which claimed another 100 lives.
The Iraqi and Syrian presidents also received invitations from Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to a weekend summit in Tehran to tackle the chaos in Iraq, Iraqi lawmakers said. Iraqi President Jalal Talabani’s spokesman said his boss would attend but that Syrian President Bashar Assad would not. The invitation was thought to be an attempt by Iran to upstage expected U.S. moves to include Syria and Iran in a wider regional effort to clamp off violence in Iraq.
The announcement of restored Iraqi-Syrian ties came during a groundbreaking visit to Baghdad by Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Moallem.
‘A new era’
“The latest talks between the Syrian and Iraqi side have been crowned by declaring a new era with the participation of the Syrian brothers in working on the security and stability with Iraq and restoring full diplomatic relations,” said Iraqi government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh.
Syria broke diplomatic ties with Iraq in 1982, accusing Iraq of inciting riots by the banned Muslim Brotherhood in Syria. Damascus also sided with Iran in the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war. Trade ties were restored in 1997.
More recently, Syria is widely believed to have done little to stop foreign fighters and al-Qaida recruits from crossing its border to join Sunni insurgents in Iraq. It also has provided refuge for many top members of Saddam’s former leadership and political corps, which is thought to have organized arms and funding for the insurgents. The Sunni insurgency, since it sprang to life in the late summer of 2003, has been responsible for the vast majority of U.S. deaths in Iraq.
On Monday, Moallem was challenged over Damascus’ role in supporting the Sunni insurgency.
“We object to any neighboring country that allows itself to be a base or a transit point for the terrorist groups that harm Iraq,” Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said after meeting with the Syrian envoy.
Al-Maliki told Moallem that Damascus should not let its disputes with the United States be played out in Iraq, where the chaos and bloodshed has become “a danger that threatens all, not Iraq only.”
Asked about the Syrian’s visit, State Department deputy spokesman Tom Casey said “the problem is not what they say but what they do.”
“Certainly what we would like to see the Syrians do is take actions to, among other things, prevent foreign fighters from coming across the border into Iraq; and, again, to back up the positive words that they have with some real concrete steps,” Casey said.
Moallem arrived in Iraq on Sunday in the first such high-level visit by a Syrian official since the fall of Saddam Hussein’s regime in 2003.