DAMASCUS — Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani traveled to Damascus on Sunday to meet with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. The trip marks the first time an Iraqi premier has visited Syria since 2011.
The discussion covered various topics, including mitigating the drought’s impact on both countries, enhancing cooperation against drug smuggling and securing the 600-kilometer border Iraq and Syria share.
“I welcome the Iraqi prime minister on this visit, the importance of which comes from the nature of the deep relationship between the two brotherly peoples,” Assad said during a joint press conference.
“This visit is important to take practical steps to strengthen bilateral relations, particularly in light of international circumstances and common challenges, especially the fight against terrorism,” he added.
Sudani said the Iraqi government fully supports sanctions being lifted that have choked the Syrian economy since the civil war started in 2011. With Baghdad and Damascus both having close economic, military and political ties to Iran, they have continued relations throughout the civil war, even when other Arab states have pulled ambassadors and closed their embassies in Syria.
Iraq, Syria and Iranian-backed Shi’a armed groups fought against the ISIS militant group. At one point, more than a third of Iraq and Syria were controlled by ISIS.
Before Sunday’s meeting, the foreign affairs advisor to the Iraqi prime minister, Farhad Alaaldin, said that Sudani was prepared for a discussion on fighting the flow of the amphetamine captagon, along with discussing the possibility of reopening a Mediterranean oil export pipeline. The move could potentially help Iraq to diversify its export routes.
The Iraqi prime minister’s visit to Damascus follows attempts by Saudi Arabia and other countries to rebuild relations with the Syrian government following years of tension. The Arab League suspended Syria following Assad’s brutal crackdown on protests against his government. Multiple Gulf states supported armed opposition to Assad’s rule in years past.
Syria was readmitted to the Arab League last May after Assad regained control of most of the country with economic and military support from Iran and Russia. Other countries throughout the region have sought dialogue with the Syrian president to return millions of refugees to Syria and combat drug smuggling.
Syria has already agreed with Iraq and Jordan to end drug smuggling across its borders. The U.S., U.K. and European Union have sanctioned Assad’s relatives and top Syrian officials in recent months over alleged connections to the drug trade. The Syrian government has denied being involved.