After Bashir, Iraqi President Barham Salih 'to visit Syria'

After Bashir, Iraqi President Barham Salih 'to visit Syria'
3 min read
19 December, 2018
Commenting on Wednesday, Salih's office did not deny the report but said the Iraqi president has not yet made arrangements for the visit.
Iraq's recently elected President Barham Salih [Getty]
Iraqi President Barham Salih will make an official visit to the Syrian capital this month for the first time since the start of the Syrian civil war, Russian news agency Sputnik  reported on Tuesday, citing an Iraqi diplomatic source.

Commenting on Wednesday, Salih's office did not deny the report but said the Iraqi president has not yet made arrangements for the visit.

The president's spokesman Luqman al-Faili said Iraq is in contact with neighbouring countries (for the visit) but no official schedule has been decided.

Iraq is one of the few Arab countries that have maintained official relations with the Assad regime. Its armed forces and government aligned but Iranian-backed militias have conducted operations in Syria in coordination with the regime against jihadist targets.

Now read:
A history of Iraq-Syria relations


The report comes amid rapid developments suggesting a number of Arab regimes, including erstwhile opponents of Assad such as Saudi Arabia and the UAE, are moving to normalise ties with Assad and bring back Syria to the Arab League.

This week, Tunisia denied a report that it was would hold talks on inviting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to an Arab League summit in March next year.

Syria was expelled from the 22-member Arab League soon after war broke out in 2011. Arab countries have sanctioned Damascus and condemned Assad for using overwhelming military force and failing to negotiate with the opposition.

On Sunday, Sudan's president Omar al-Bashir, who is wanted by the ICC for war crimes, on Sunday became the first Arab leader to visit Syria since the war began there nearly eight years ago.

Syria was expelled from the 22-member Arab League soon after war broke out in 2011. Arab countries have sanctioned Damascus and condemned Assad for using overwhelming military force and failing to negotiate with the opposition.

The reason for al-Bashir's visit was not immediately clear. But as troops loyal to Assad's regime recapture key cities and population centres, some Arab officials have expressed interest in exploring the restoration of ties.

In October, Assad told a little-known Kuwaiti newspaper that Syria had reached a "major understanding" with Arab states after years of hostility. 

He did not name the Arab countries in the interview, which was his first with a Gulf paper since the war erupted, but he said Arab and Western delegations had begun visiting Syria to prepare for the reopening of diplomatic and other missions.

The interview came on the heels of a surprisingly warm embrace between the Syrian foreign minister and his Bahraini counterpart on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in September in New York. 

The encounter raised questions about whether the Gulf countries, most of them sworn enemies of Assad ally Iran, are reconsidering their relations with Syria.

The Syrian state news agency SANA quoted the Sudanese president as saying during the meeting with Assad that he hopes Syria will recover its important role in the region as soon as possible. 

SANA showed the two leaders shaking hands at the airport in front of a Russian plane that appears to have brought al-Bashir to Syria. Russia, a key ally of Assad, maintains an airbase southeast of the Syrian city of Latakia.

Bashir has been Sudan's leader since 1989 and is wanted by the International Criminal Court in the Netherlands to face war crimes charges stemming from a conflict in his own country.

The Syrian war began in 2011 when the Baath regime, in power since 1963, responded with military force to peaceful protests demanding democratic reforms during the Arab Spring wave of uprisings, triggering an armed rebellion fuelled by mass defections from the Syrian army.

The brutal tactics pursued mainly by Assad's regime, which have included the use of chemical weapons, sieges, mass executions and torture against civilians have led to war crimes investigations.

With input from agencies

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