Damascus, Syria (AP) – Iraq’s prime minister held talks with Syrian President Bashar Assad in Damascus on Sunday in his first trip to the war-torn country since the start of a 12-year war.
Iraq and Syria have had close ties for years, even after a 2011 crackdown on the opposition led to several Arab countries moving their ambassadors to Damascus and Syria’s membership of the 22-member Arab League.
Assad received the head of the delegation, Mohammed Shia al-Sudan, at the presidential palace in Damascus. The Syrian President’s office announced that they also discussed mutual relations and cooperation between the two neighboring countries.
Talks focused on trade, economy, transport, tourism, how to fight climate change and expanding cooperation to fight terrorism, Al-Sudan’s office said in a statement.
Security cooperation against extremists is likely to be the main agenda of the two-day visit. The two countries share a 600-kilometer (373-mile) border, where Iran exerts extensive influence. In June 2014, the Islamic State group declared the establishment of a self-styled “caliphate,” a traditional model of Islamic rule, in large areas under its control in Iraq and Syria.
ISIS was defeated in Iraq in 2017 and in Syria in March 2019 after years of campaigning that left tens of thousands dead in both countries. Over the years, the Syrian government forces have controlled most of Syria with the help of Russia and Iran.
Syria’s Arab League membership was reinstated earlier this year, and Assad attended an Arab summit in Saudi Arabia in May.
Last month, during the visit of Syrian Foreign Minister Faisal Makdad to Baghdad, al-Sudani was invited to visit Damascus.
America is present in Syria and Iraq and the Syrian authorities in 2010 They have been calling for the withdrawal of US troops who first entered the country in 2015.
On any given day, there are at least 900 U.S. troops in Syria, along with an unknown number of contractors, trying to prevent a resurgence of the Islamic State group. US special operations forces also operate in and out of the country, but are usually in small groups and are not included in the official count.
Although the US-led coalition forces have officially ended their combat mission in Iraq, they continue to advise the Iraqi military in the fight against the Islamic State extremist group.