Iraq officially reopens border with Syria closed since 2012

The Qaim border crossing was shuttered after Syria's civil war erupted

A view of the Iraqi-Syrian borders at Al Qaim Al Abu Kamal border crossing, after being reopened for travelers and trade in Anbar province, in Qaim, Iraq September 30, 2019. Reuters 
A view of the Iraqi-Syrian borders at Al Qaim Al Abu Kamal border crossing, after being reopened for travelers and trade in Anbar province, in Qaim, Iraq September 30, 2019. Reuters 

A key border crossing between Iraq and Syria re-opened on Monday, a move that signalled the growing normalisation of ties between the neighbouring states.

The Qaim crossing is located in the western province of Anbar, 300 kilometres west of Baghdad. The town was recaptured from ISIS in November 2017 and was the insurgent’s last bastion in Iraq to fall.

The border was closed in 2012 shortly after Syria's civil war erupted.

“The border will be used for trade and commercial purposes as well as tourism,” Iraq’s border crossing chief, Aladin Qaysi, said.

Last year, both Iraqi and Syrian foreign ministers said the re-opening of the border was “imminent”.

Security measures have been taken to ensure the safety of travellers and commercial goods, Mr Qaysi said.

The governor of Anbar, Ali Al Dulaimi, attended the opening ceremony and said the “reopening of the border is a vital and important step for the exchange of trade and the strengthening of relations with neighbouring Syria".

There are fears that the move will enhance Iran's influence in the region by allowing militias aligned with Tehran, that operate in Iraq, to have easier access to eastern Syria.

The warming of ties between Baghdad and Syrian President Bashar Al Assad goes back to when Iraq called for the re-installation of Syria’s membership in the Arab league earlier this year.

Damascus was suspended from the league in 2011 over its crackdown on protesters at the start of the civil war.

Iraq’s Foreign Minister, Mohamed Al Hakim, called for an end to the Syrian crisis in January during a meeting with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov in Moscow.

The Qaim crossing borders the Syrian town of Al Bukamal, which was an ISIS stronghold.

It lies on a strategic supply route and the crossing between them had only been open for government or military traffic.

Although Iraq announced victory against ISIS in late 2017 after three years of a brutal fighting against the group they continue to carry out sporadic attacks across the country.

The insurgent’s sleeper cells have continued to carry out hit-and-run attacks against government positions, particularly at checkpoints.

In March this year, ISIS was ousted from its final territorial enclave in Syria, the hamlet known as Baghouz, prompting US president Donald Trump to declare victory against the group and order the withdrawal of all American troops from Syria.

Mr Trump later walked back on his promise to withdraw from Syria, while ISIS militants have maintained their presence in both countries.

Published: September 30, 2019 02:06 PM

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