IRAQI-SYRIAN RAPPROCHEMENT

Created: 5/30/1979

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INTELLIGENCE AGENCY National Foreign Assessment Center

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IRAQI-SYRIAN RAPPROCHEMENT

The oeVen-fnonth-old Iraqi-Syrian rapprochement;olitical roots, but ie continuing under the impetus provided by the Egyptian pace initiative and instability in Iron. Additional selective cooperation, including nititarif, ig likely. Should the Egyptian-Israc li negotio tiom. on the future of the Went Rank and Gaza achieve a ctii abicignificant Palestinian elementsould Israel entinfy Syrian dev.ande regarding thr return of the Golan Ucighto, motivation of both particn for fuvauinn unity Mould fade away. f theaprfLt) of reennci'i ctipofiialttf in the ficbnemic area, -souId 'front more fnh a re ihe benafitaormal, relatione hip rather than return Uo the ntntu* quo ant* .

The Camp David Accords shocked the Iraqis into action to end their bitter feud with Syria. Since the Sadat visit to Jerusalem, the Iraqis hove worried that the Egyptian initiative would ultimatelyomprehensive peace,eraq isolated and without significant allies. The strong Arab backlash to tho Accords gave Doghdad an opportunity to end it3 isolation without having to make major adjustments in its own hard line positioniddle East peace settlement. The Arab center moved toward Iraq, while Iraqi Daathists made only minoroward former Arab moderates.

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The Iraqi strategy began with an effort to organize an Arab consensus against the peace terms negotiated bySadat. ecessary first step was to end the open hostility between Iraq and its long-time rival, Syria. To achieve this, Baghdad wasthe firstdrop public objections to Syria's acceptance of theof negotiationsermissible way to recover Arab territory. Rejcctionist rhetoric,ontinues to permeate Iraqi pronouncements, suggesting that thisrepresents nothing moreemporary tactical adjustment of Iraq's viewsiddle East peace.

There are economic and military inducements for the Syrians to proceedormalization of relationsat]. With Egypt neutralizedarge part of the Syrian army in Lebanon, Syria's military positionis Israel is untenable. .The combined weight of the Syrian and Iraqi military establishments would provide Damascus with some negotiating leverage and enhanced military credibility. From the economic standpoint, Syria has begun to benefitesumption of normal commercial contacts. also encourages prompt payment to Syria of the Iraqi portion of the Daghdad summit financial pledge; Iraqi payments to date have amounted to0 million.

Baghdad's motivation to make up with Syria goes beyond pan-Arab aspirations. Iraqi Baathists were anxiously eyeing Iran during the last half Continued confrontation with Syria was dangerous, given the potential that the unfolding unrest in Iran could spill acrossile border with Iran and infect Iraqi Shias and Kurds. The Iraqis were also concerned about growing Soviet influence in the Middle East. Although the Soviets in the past have urged Syrian-Iraqi rapprochement, Moscow is clearlythat the reconciliation may work to its disadvantage, for, to the extent that reconciliation strengthens the partners, they need payeed to the USSR.

The Iraqi-Syrian rapprochement was sealed during President Assad's trip to Baghdad last October. Assad and Iraqi President Bakrharter for Joint National Action setting up machinery to coordinate movement toward unity. The Charterigher Political Committee

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composed of Assad. Bakr, Saddam Husayn- and several other senior Syrian and Iraqi officials. This committee, which is supposed to meet *ibout every throe months, oversees the work of four sub-committees on military cooperation, economic relations, political and information affairs, and education and scientific matters*

Unlike previous state-to-state marriages in the Arab world, the Iraqis and Syrians seem prepared to carryong courtship before taking the final vows. Both sides haveradual approach to the negotiations and have avoided unrealistic declarations of unity. Damascus and Baghdad, however, probablyautious approach for different reasons. Iraq, the moro enthusiastic of the two would-be partners, is confident that Iraq's natural strengths would eventually allow it to become the dominant partner in any union with Syria* Syrian leaders, for their part, remain deeply distrustful of Iraqi Baathists and view drawn out negotiations as an opportunity to enjoy somethe fruits of normal relations with Baghdad without having to get too involved with the Iraqis. This kind of negotiating game has its limits, however, although they are not likely to be reached as long as the external forces that started the rapprochement prevail. In time, Baghdad may run out of patience wich Syria's stalling tactics, or Damascus, unable to overcome its basic mistrust, may have to break off with its ardent suitor.

The only meeting of the Higher Political Committee took place last January in Damascus and did not make any notable progress. Bakr even found an excuse not to attend. In the meantime,ubcommittees have met frequently and produced some tangible common benefits. In the area of foreign affairs, the two countries have effectively coordinated the drive to punish President Sadat for signing the peace treaty with Israel. The skillful Iraqi management ofab ministerial meeting in Baghdad last Marchurprisingly tough set of sanctions against Egypt. Since then the Iraqis and Syrians have worked vigorously to ensure there is full Arab compliance with the Baghdad conference resolutions.

Iraq and Syria alsoey role in ending the fighting in Yemen last February. They not only helpederipheral Arab squabble that threatened to detract from Baghdad's and Damascus1 goal ofnited stand against Egypt, but also enhanced Syrian-Iraqiin the Arabian Peninsula at the expense of Saudi Arabia.

Military Cooperation

and Iraq appear to have made military cooperation particularly in the and procurement. The two have exchanged air force, and air defense delegations, officers have toured possible deployment and others have examined possible routes Iraqi expeditionary force. Tho two coun have drawn up joint lists of their weapo procurement in order tooin nent,

progress in areas of planning high level staff. Senior Iraqi army areas in the Golan to the Golan for an

tries reportedly

is and planned

l fund for procure-

In view of the antagonisms between the Syrian and Iraqi leaderships,trong belief that military support was needed would lead Damascus to allow substantial numbers of Iraqi troop3 on its soil- There is no concrete evidence that Damascus has madeecision. Tenuous evidencethat Iraq may be propositioning some spare parts and airmunition in Syria. There has been, however, astrengthening of Iraqi air defenses along tho borders with Syria andove which would enhance Baghdad's ability to undertake closer cooperation quickly should the political atmosphere improve.

For the future, Damascus must weigh the military advantages that collaboration with Iraq would give itio Isroel against the political disadvantages of having rival Baathists potentially active in Syria,

--Joint planning would facilitate the movement of Iraqi forces to the Golan and, more importantly, increase their effectiveness once they arrived.

spare parts and ammunition would greatly lessen the logistic requirements for Iraqi forces moving to the Golan. Any material already moved would not be subject to Israeli interdiction. Moreover, Syria would have possession of the material no matter what happens to political relations with Baghdad.

exerciser; would improve Syrian and Iraqi air and ground forces' ability to cooperate in wartime.

greatest military advantage to both countries in the event of war with Israel would come from the prepositioning of large numbers of Iraqi combat forces in Syria. As mentioned above, the stationing cf Iraqi forces in Syria would have politicalfor Damascus. The stationiny of forces would raise tensions in the area and be viewed with alarm bythat Israel might preempt such an attempt to station significant Iraqi forcos in Syria.

The unity talks have also produced visible results in tho economic area. Trade and commercial contacts have increased. Iraq and Syria have agreed to reopen the oil pipeline that runs from northern Iraq across Syria to the Mediterranean. Although the agreement to reopen the line, closed sincenly calls for operation at about one-quarter capacity, Syria still slands to gainillion annually in transit fees. Baghdad, desirous of maintaining flexible and secure routes for exporting its oil, has gained another direct outlet to the Mediterranean.

Barriers to Unity

The obstacles to an Iraqi-Syrian political union seem insurmountable over the long term. The two sideseen rivals in the Fertile Crescent for centuries. Political competition since the Baath Party split6 has bred deep seated distrust and jealousies. Opposing National Ccmmands--the highest party authority--have existed in Baghdad and Damascus for moreecade, ch side claims to be the legitimate representative of pan-Arab

Baathism and in pursuit of these claims, each has sponsored coup plots and assassinations that are not easily forgotten. Indeed, it is unlikely that either side has completely abandoned its subversive contacts and operations against the other in case the impetus for cooperation wanos.

Damascus does not share the general perception that it is the junior partner in the relationship with Baghdad. President Assad probably regards tho Charter for Joint National Action with Iraqarriage of convenience dictated by external conditions that can easily be dissolved. Assad has always wanted to enjoylitary, economic, and political benefitsormal relationship with Baghdad, but he remains deeply suspicious of Iraq's intentions and will avoid too tight an embrace.

Both Damascus and Baghdad are convinced of their own importance in the region and are determined not to surrender what they each perceive as their own leading role. is fundamental difference in perception actsarrier to real unity since noither side wants to give up itsto Arab leadership.

Baath Party unity appears to be the main stumbling block in the negotiation. The Iraqis have pushed hard on party unity, despite Syrian reluctance to discuss the topic. Thead is probably worried that party consolidation would upset his control of the Syrian Baath, whose military and security branches are dominatedribors cf Assjd' r. irmority Alawite Sur.lir sc-t.

Pe. 'gious sectarianism also works against unity; an Iraqicombination would produce an insoluble mix of Islamic divisions. unni Muslim minority rules in Baghdad,hia offshoot, Alawite sect governs in Damascus. Many of the minority Syrian Alawitcs probably fear that the Iraqi Baathists wouldid for power by Syria's majority Sunni population. For their port, Iraq's majority Shia Arabs would probably resent having thtir potential influence diminished. The Sunni dominated Baghdad leadership hasarrot and stick policy to keep local Shias in

line. Now, given the possibility of spillover from Iran, the Baathists might be prepared to be especially bolicitous in ordor to win Shia loyalty to the secular regime and damp down any possible thoughts Iraqi Shias might have of following the example of their rebellious Iranian coreligionists.

Syrian and irar* attitudes toward the peace process also continue to divide the two states, while both reject the Camp David Arcords, Syria has not retracted its support for UN. Assad has publicly reiterated Syrian backingomprehensive Kiddle East peace agreement on several occasions since the conclusion of the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty. The Syrians have ruled out participation in the Camp David process but continue to support the principleegotiated settlement with Israeln context. Baghdad, for its part, continues to adhereejecticnist policy and has not accepted.

These differences are muted for the moment because of common opposition to the Camp David Accords. Xf the emphasis nf the peace process wero to rhift to another context such as tho un, however, Syrian-Iraqi differences might well renmergo andisruption in the

Another point of dispute between Syria and Iraq is use of Euphrates River water resources. This geopolitical problem has defied solution for decades because of uncoordinated, unilateral development by the three riparianIraq, and Turkey. Long-term competition for this scarce resource seem chronic, and neither of tho two upper Euphrates countries has demonstrated much consideration for downstream user needs in planning its own river development projects.

Although these almost certainly preclude establishment of an enduring political union between Iraq and Syria, they do not prohibit significant cooperation on selected issues for the near term. Perhaps even some form of political unity will te worked out, but if so, it is likely to be symbolic, devoid of institutional strength, and extremely fragile. The degree of cooperation already achieved hasajor impact on the Arab reaction to tho Egyptian-Israeli tuaty and is likely to continue toegativo role in

the peace process- Continued Iraqi-Syrian rapprochement could also contribute to additional cooperation among eastern Arabs* Jordan, the PLO, and Saudi Arabia, for example- are exploring closer political and military coordination among themselves and with Syria and Iraq*

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