The border dispute between Iraq and Syria is a longstanding one, dating back to the early 20th century when the Ottoman Empire was finally dismembered and the two independent countries of Iraq and Syria established. The formation of the independent states of Iraq and Syria followed the Anglo-Iraqi Treaty (1922), which defined the approximately 600 kilometers long border spanning from Mesopotamia down to the Syrian deserts (Dawisha 212). Following the definition of this border, discontent and dissatisfaction started to simmer both in Iraq and Syria, but mostly in Iraq, due to several fundamental factors. The treaty defining the Iraq and Syria border, the Euphrates waters, one of the core natural resources of the region that runs partly along the Iraqi and Syrian border, creates a serious conflict over the ownership and control of this vital resource (el-Din Haseeb 125).
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The Euphrates valley border conflict is a serious one, considering that throughout the Syrian Desert, this natural resource remains the key spruce of water (BBC News, n.p.). The other major factor contributing to the border conflict between Iraq and Syria is the fact that the border between these two nations as defined under the 1922 treaty follows a long a zone heavily endowed with oil resource (Dawisha 212). Therefore, the rise of the border dispute between Iraq and Syria has also been centered on the control of the vast oil resource running along the border, which both of the countries cannot lay an adequate claim over. Indeed, the vast oil resource endowed in the Iraq and Syria has been the core source of the border dispute, as well as the life and blood line of the Islamic State (ISIS) militant group that occupied this border region since 2014 (Gilsinan).
The endowment of the vital resources of water and oil wealth along the Iraqi and Syrian border has become a major source of dispute between the two nations. Historically, there have been attempts to unite both Iraq and Syria nations into a single country, but such attempts have always failed (Ma’oz 152). While under the rule of the Ba’ath Party, both Iraq and Syria coexisted in form of close relations, which made it foreseeable that the two nations could unite under one territory, and by the late 1970s, the course of the reunification of the two nations had advanced greatly (153). The key indicator of a possible reunification was the treaty signed between Iraq and Syria in 1978, providing for the closest form of unity that included economic, political, cultural and also military unification (153).
Ironically however, although the relations between Iraq and Syria under the Ba’ath Party had improved significantly and closeness established that predicted reunification, the Iraqi and Syrian border dispute would emerge under this rule (153). The closeness established under the Ba’ath rule resulted in both Iraq and Syria starting questioning the fate of their dismantling into a single nation. Therefore, throughout the 1960s, border disputes started arising between Iraq and Syria, mostly related to the issues of passage of the Iraq oil pipelines in Syria, as well as over the Euphrates water (el-Din Haseeb 125). These issues continued to raise serious border tensions between the two nations, until the new initiative to unify the countries started around the late 1970s.
Nevertheless, it is the rise of Saddam Hussein to power that stifled the existing plans to unite Iraq and Syria, because when Saddam Hussein came into power in 1979, he demanded the dismantling of the Iraq-Syrian border and the deployment of the Iraq military into Syria, a demand that was interpreted by Syria as an act of hostility (Dawisha 214). Consequently, Syria started developing cold feet towards the reunification of the two nations, and instead forged strong ties with Iran. The outcome was that the border hostility between Iraq and Syria exacerbated to their climax, resulting in the total closure of the border between the two countries in early 1982, where the movement of goods and citizens across the border of the two countries was shut and stopped forthwith (214).
The closure of the Iraqi and Syrian border then gave rise to an even more serious threat, in the form of the rise of the Islamic State (ISIS) militant group, keen on making the border region between Iraq and Syria and independent state under an independent caliphate rule (BBC News). Consequently, while the two nations have attempted to reunite into a single country, especially through Iraq’s initiative, the rise of the militant group, Islamic State (ISIS) was motivated by the attempts to make the regions in the Iraq and Syria border an independent caliphate (BBC News). The ISIS has been trying to establish the Iraq and Syria border as an independent state with a system of governance independent of Syria and Iraq, and this attempt has emerged as a major cause of the Iraq-Syrian war (Gilsinan). Consequently, the current border disputes between Iraq and Syria are not those related to the hostilities between the two nations per se, but rather in relation to the rising threat of ISIS in the borders of the two nations, specifically around the mid-Euphrates valley, where ISIS has put up a spirited fight to establish an independent state (BBC News).
- BBC News. “Islamic State and the crisis in Iraq and Syria in maps”. BBC News, 3 November 2017. Web. (Accessed: November 22, 2017) http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-27838034
- Dawisha, Adeed. Iraq: A Political History from Independence to Occupation. Princeton University Press, 2009.
- el-Din Haseeb , Khair. The Future of the Arab Nation: Challenges and Options, Volume 2. Routledge, 2012.
- Gilsinan, Kathy. “The Many Ways to Map the Islamic ‘State’”. The Atlantic, 27 August 2014, https://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2014/08/the-many-ways-to-map-the-islamic-state/379196/. Accessed: November 22, 2017.
- Ma’oz, Moshe. Syria and Israel: From War to Peacemaking. Oxford University Press, 1995.