Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shia Al-Sudani began an official visit to Syria on Sunday, the first by an Iraqi premier since the outbreak of the Syrian war in 2011, in a trip aimed at securing their shared border and bolstering economic ties, reports Reuters.
Iraq and Syria, which have close economic, military and political ties to regional heavyweight Iran, maintained relations throughout Syria’s civil war even as other Arab states withdrew their ambassadors and closed their embassies in Syria.
Baghdad and Damascus, along with Shi’ite armed groups backed by Iran, cooperated in the fight against militant group Islamic State, which spread from Iraq into Syria and at one point controlled more than a third of both countries.
Farhad Alaaldin, foreign affairs adviser to the prime minister, said Sudani was set to discuss combatting the flow of drugs, especially the amphetamine Captagon, and preventing the infiltration of Islamic State militants over their shared 600km border.
The prime minister would also discuss trade and economic cooperation and possibilities for reopening an oil export pipeline in the Mediterranean, which could help Iraq diversify its export routes, he said.
Sudani’s visit comes as other countries, including Saudi Arabia, rebuild relations with Damascus after years of tensions.
Syria was suspended from the Arab League in 2011 over Assad’s brutal crackdown on protests and several Gulf states supported the armed opposition to his rule.
But Assad has regained control of most of Syria with military and economic support from Russia and Iran, Syria was readmitted to the Arab League in May, and regional countries are seeking dialogue with him to end drug smuggling and return millions of refugees.
Syria has agreed to help end drug trafficking across its borders with Jordan and Iraq.
Top Syrian officials and relatives of Assad have been put on sanctions lists in recent months in the United States, United Kingdom and European Union over their alleged ties to the trade.
The Syrian government denies involvement in the drug trade.