Barham Salih, the deputy prime minister of Iraq's interim government, says Syria and Iraq will set up a special security force to prevent infiltrations by Islamic militants across their 600-kilometer common border. Salih made the remarks on 11 July during a visit to Damascus -- the first to Syria by an Iraqi official since the United States transferred sovereignty to the interim Iraqi government last month. RFE/RL correspondent Ron Synovitz reports on what appears to be the start of a wider effort by the interim government to gain recognition from its neighbors.
Prague, 12 July 2004 (RFE/RL) -- The Iraqi deputy prime minister says Baghdad and Damascus have agreed to work together to end cross-border infiltrations by Islamic militants by setting up special security patrols along their desert border.
Salih made the announcement after talks in Damascus on 10 July with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
"There is an understanding from the Syrian side that the security and sovereignty of Iraq is necessary not only for Iraqis but also for the region," he said. "And from this position, we see a necessity for cooperation from both sides -- between both neighboring brother countries -- in order to define the technicalities of the arrangements and the security cooperation and the cases of infiltration and the chances for those who do not wish well for Iraq or for the region."
Salih said Iraq's interim government wants to reassure all of its neighbors that cooperation is vital for reconstruction and regional security.
"We see that the new Iraq should support the regional sovereignty," he said. "We see in the new Iraq an ally for the countries of the region, and with it, benefits for the people of the region. As for the bilateral relations with Syria, there is a necessity for these relations to be special in the different fields that concern both countries -- the economic and political. There are links and historical and cultural and social and economic factors that require such a special situation in bilateral relations."
Rime Allaf is an associate fellow at the London-based Royal Institute for International Affairs who specializes in the Middle East. She tells RFE/RL Salih's visit to Damascus was a necessary initial step for the interim government in Baghdad as it attempts to gain recognition from its neighbors: "This visit by the [Iraqi] deputy prime minister to Syria is what Syria was looking for -- a recognition by the Iraqis that cooperation is needed by the Syrians and by Iraq's other neighboring countries, and the recognition that the Iraq situation is an issue that concerns the whole Middle East, whether it is the Arab countries or Turkey or Iran."
But Allaf says Syria's cooperation with Baghdad on border security does not mean that Damascus is about to recognize the U.S.-appointed interim administration as a legitimate government: "Syria, like the rest of the Arab countries, is really looking forward to a pacification of the Iraqi situation. So like most governments, although they have not really recognized [the Iraqi interim] government as a legitimate government, they are more than willing to cooperate with them to make sure that the chaos is not exported over the borders -- whether it is to Syria or Saudi Arabia or Jordan."
Remi Leveau is a Middle East expert at the Paris-based French Institute for International Relations. He tells RFE/RL that some political forces within the Syrian government do not want President al-Assad to recognize the Iraqi interim administration unless Damascus receives security guarantees from the United States in return.
"If the Syrian administration has no insurance in those terms coming directly from the United States, they will not consider working seriously with the Iraqi prime minister," he said. "[Syrian recognition of the Iraqi interim government] has a price. The United States is not ready to pay it right now."
Leveau also said that Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi's planned visits to neighboring countries this week could put him in the position of being an intermediary who could help build up relations between the United States and the Arab world. But as far as security is concerned, Leveau says it is most important for Baghdad to establish diplomatic relations with Iran and Turkey: "If Syria is important in terms of controlling the border, I think today Iran is much more important due to the influence it can have on the Shi'a areas of Iraq. But it is easier, maybe, to start [by trying to establish relations] with Syria because Syria is afraid of the situation in the Middle East and the pressure which can be exercised on her by Israel and the United States in relation to a settlement on the control of [parts of] Lebanon, for instance."
Leveau said Turkey is important to Baghdad because of issues related to the Kurdish population in northern Iraq.
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