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The BBC's Barbara Plett reports
"The move has been predicted, but this is quite a step for the formerly bitter enemies"
 real 28k

Saturday, 26 February, 2000, 23:14 GMT
Iraq and Syria resume ties
The site in Turkey of a proposed dam across the Tigris
Turkey's plans for the Tigris have brought Iraq and Syria closer together
There are reports that Iraq has opened its first diplomatic links with Syria in 20 years.

According to Iraqi press reports, Iraqi diplomats who arrived in Damascus last week have opened an interest section at the Algerian embassy.

Syria is expected to send diplomats to Baghdad shortly to operate a similar interest section at the Algerian embassy there.

BBC Amman correspondent Barbara Plett says the move has been predicted for some time but it is still a big step for the formerly bitter enemies to take.

Years of feuding

Syria and Iraq are ruled by rival factions of the Baath party, an Arab nationalist political grouping.

They severed diplomatic ties in 1980 after Syria sided with Iran in the Iran-Iraq war.

Relations further deteriorated when the Syrians joined the US-led coalition that drove Iraq out of Kuwait in 1991.

Syrian army
Syrian forces joined the international coalition against Iraq
The long-standing hostility between Baghdad and Damascus eased three years ago with the resumption of economic ties.

The two countries have also found common ground in a shared dispute with Turkey over the waters of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers.

Istanbul has for years exploited the Euphrates for hydroelectric power and has plans to do the same to the Tigris - reducing the water supply downstream to the Iraq and Syria.

Both countries are also extremely suspicious of Turkey's increasingly close relations with Israel.

Diplomatic isolation

Iraq's main motive for resuming relations appears to be the wish to break out of the regional isolation it has suffered since the 1991 Gulf War.

Reports say it is hoping this step will open the door for diplomatic initiatives with other Arab states.

Damascus is seeking to building relations with Iraq to boost trade.

In the last three years, Syria has exported goods and medicines worth $150m to Iraq under the United Nations administered oil-for-food deal.

There are reports of large amounts of Iraqi crude passing through Syria in a mushrooming illicit exports that are in violation of the international embargo against Iraq.

Damascus has in the past called for the lifting of the sanctions on Iraq, while trying to maintain relations with governments in the Gulf region.

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See also:

22 Jan 00 |  Europe
Turkish dam controversy
16 Mar 99 |  Middle East
Analysis: The politics of water
19 Aug 98 |  Middle East
Iraq-Syria talks improve relations
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