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Syria Table of Contents


Syrian-Iraqi Hostility

Another important Syrian security consideration in early 1987 was Syria's twenty-four-year-old antagonism toward its eastern neighbor, Iraq. Since 1963, when the Baath Party came to power in Syria and became a rival of the Iraqi Baath Party, relations between these two states have been marked by political intrigue, attempts at subversion, assassinations, and concerted propaganda campaigns by each against the other. Since both Syria and Iraq are ruled by the ostensibly pan-Arab Baath Party, the conflict has been over which "true Baath Party" was to dominate the whole movement (see Political Dynamics , ch. 4). Both states considered themselves vulnerable to attack because the border between them is little more than a line drawn across a vast, open, thinly populated desert.

In 1975 a dispute over rights to the waters of the Euphrates River--a waterway essential to both countries--took Syria and Iraq to the verge of war. Syria limited the water flowing out of its newly completed Euphrates (Tabaqah) Dam, thereby slowing the flow into Iraq. For two months both countries hurled invective at each other, and Syrian troops massed along the Iraqi border. Only Saudi Arabian mediation induced Syria to release more water from its Tabaqah reservoir "as a gesture of goodwill."

Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, both sides committed frequent acts of terrorism and subversion. Syria routinely blamed Iraqi agents for a multitude of internal ills. Disaffected army officers who had left either country served as prized sources of intelligence and propaganda. Tensions between Damascus and Baghdad have been exacerbated by Syria's support, including weapons shipments, to Iran in the Gulf War. Just as damaging to Iraq was the 1982 cutoff of the pipeline which runs through Syria and through which Iraq pumped oil to Mediterranean ports (see Industry , ch. 3).

Data as of April 1987