Iraq’s president says Syria policy has failed

Barham Salih says conversations between GCC countries, Turkey and Iran are taking place to bridge regional differences

Iraq's President Barham Salih delivers a televised speech to people in Baghdad, Iraq October 31, 2019. The Presidency of the Republic of Iraq Office/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY.

Iraqi President Barham Salih called on the international community on Wednesday to acknowledge that the policy pursued in Syria since 2011 has failed and for the region to heed Baghdad's example by opening channels with the government in Damascus.

“You have to have the courage to admit that the present policy has totally, utterly failed and the humanitarian consequences of the conflict in Syria are unquestionably too high and unacceptable, morally and politically,” Mr Salih told the Council on Foreign Relations in New York.

The UN estimated that more than 5.6 million people had been made refugees because of the war, including more than 2.5 million children, making it the largest displacement crisis in the world.

About half a million people have been killed in the fighting.

The Iraqi leader also implied that plans to overthrow Syria’s authoritarian leader, President Bashar Al Assad, have also failed.

“The government is still there and you have thousands and thousands of well-armed militants in the urban centre of the Middle East. This is not the few handful of men in the remote caves of Afghanistan,” he said.

Mr Salih said one lesson from Afghanistan is that “turning a blind eye is not an option” when it comes to counter-terrorism, noting that Baghdad is opening channels with the Syrian regime.

“We in Iraq we are opening to the Syrian government, trying to open channels and encourage help and relief to the Syrian people, and we want to focus on dealing with the extremist issue in some of these areas of Syria which pose a direct security threat to Iraq and to the neighbourhood.”

The Iraqi president encouraged his regional counterparts to follow suit and open up to Damascus.

“I'm personally calling for the region to try and embrace this dynamic in Syria,” he said. He noted that the administration of US President Joe Biden is talking with the Russians about a possible collaboration on Syria.

Mr Salih said other conversations are taking place regionally, including between traditional rivals Saudi Arabia and Iran.

“A lot of conversations have taken place between our Gulf neighbours and the Iranians and the Turks, and a lot of conversations between the Saudis and the Iranians have taken place, and it's quite a paradox, in some ways, for them to meet in Iraq in an open secret.”

In his speech to the UN General Assembly on Wednesday, Saudi Arabia’s King Salman expressed hopes that these talks with “neighbourly Iran” would lead to “concrete results".

It is time for regional actors to work on finding solutions to their own problems, Mr Salih said.

“The Americans are not there forever. We have to count on ourselves when we have to find solutions emanating from our own societies and from our own region.”

The Iraqi president met Mr Biden on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly on Tuesday.

Updated: September 23rd 2021, 5:11 AM
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