Relations warming between Baghdad and Damascus

Relations warming between Baghdad and Damascus
The growing friendship may have been engineered by Iran to promote a united front against the Islamic State group.
3 min read
20 March, 2015
Relations between Iraq and Syria cooled after Maliki was deposed [AFP]
Three government and political delegations have been sent back and forth between Damascus and Baghdad since the beginning of March, it has emerged.

This is the first political and direct communication between the two regimes, both of which receive significant military and political support from Iran.

The behind the scenes manoeuvres suggest the two administrations may be close are to bringing back public and direct cooperation. 
The delegates seemed to carry verbal messages to every figure they met with in Baghdad.

The delegations are the first of their kind since Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi assumed power in Iraq late last year.

The delegations, two from Iraq and one from Syria, visited each other and are understood to have met Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and the Iraqi prime minister to discuss the general security and military situations in each country.

"An Iraqi parliament delegation, made up of six senior Shia figures from the National Alliance, representing the Sadrist movement, the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) and the State of Law Coalition, visited Damascus on 3 March," said a senior Iraqi official.

"Another Iraqi government delegation, representing the cabinet, the interior ministry and state security, visited Damascus on 9 March and met with Assad," he told al-Araby al-Jadeed.

The official added that a Syrian delegation, made up of Syrian MPs, Latakia Governor Ibrahim Khedr, transport ministry representatives and Syria's ambassador to Iraq, Sattam Jadaan al-Dandah, arrived in Baghdad on 12 March.

The delegation reportedly met Abadi and prominent figures in the National Shia Alliance, as well as Popular Mobilisation leaders.

"The delegates seemed to carry verbal messages to every figure they met with in Baghdad," said our source. "However, [Iraqi parliament speaker] Salim Jabouri refused to meet the delegation during its two-day visit to Baghdad.

"The meetings have a clear sectarian aspect sponsored by Iran, which has become the link between the two regimes after the halt in direct land connections due to the Islamic State group's control of border areas between the two countries," added the Iraqi ministerial official.

A tripartite alliance?

"The Syrian, Iraqi and Iranian regimes are currently developing a collaboration that may be announced under the cover of the war on IS, while in reality it hides common political goals and intentions," he said.

This may create new tensions in Iraq, particularly among Sunni communities who had reportedly been assured support from Assad's regime would be cut off.

Sunni and Kurdish ministers have also questioned why the visits were personal, rather than official, as per usual state visits.

Coordination is back under the auspices of Tehran, following a cold spell in their relations since Abadi assumed power

Iraqi political analyst Hussein al-Janabi said the diplomatic wranglings came on the back of remarks made by US officials that negotiating directly with Assad may be an eventual necessity.

"We cannot know for sure the content of these mutual visits, but it seems that coordination is back on between the two countries, following a cold phase in their relations since Abadi assumed power," Janabi told al-Araby.

"Coordination is back under the auspices of Tehran, which has been pressuring Abadi since its significant military intervention in the battle of Tikrit. Perhaps Washington knows, or maybe it used Abadi as a mailbox for Assad's messages."

Janabi blamed "the Arab countries", accusing regional powers of laziness in the face of an opportunity - when former prime minister Nouri al-Maliki left office - to steer Iraq away from Iran.

"Iran and Washington have taken away Iraq's will, and Iran undoubtedly has the largest share in the country," Janabi added.

This is an edited translation from our Arabic edition.