OSC Press Roundup Maliki visit to Syria

The USG Open Source Center rounds up Iraqi media reaction to the visit of Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki to Damascus.

Iraq-Syria: Media, Officials Call Al-Maliki Visit ‘Success’ Despite Differences Iraq, Syria
— OSC Report Friday, August 24, 2007
Document Type: OSC Report Word Count: 749

Iraq-Syria: Media, Officials Call Al-Maliki’s Visit ‘Successful’ Despite Differences During his 20-22 August visit to Damascus, Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki pushed to enlist Syria as a partner in Iraq’s fight against terrorism, casting the problem as a threat to both sides. While Iraqi government officials and media portrayed the visit as an overall success, media close to the government expressed reservations about Syria’s reliability as an ally. Syria for its part reiterated its objections to the presence of the Multinational Forces in Iraq, but nonetheless called the visit a success, drawing attention to agreements to import Iraqi fuel.

During the visit, Prime Minister Al-Maliki sought to enlist Syria’s aid in Iraq’s fight against terrorism. Iraqi leaders and media have long complained that Syria has served as a staging area for insurgents seeking to enter Iraq.

Al-Maliki said during an interview with Syrian television, for example, that “it must be clear to the world, and it has become clear to the brothers in Syria,” that terrorism represents “a dark onslaught without any values or ethics” (Syrian Space Channel TV, 22 August).

Media sources close to the Baghdad government, however, expressed doubts that Syria would prove to be a reliable ally.

A commentator in one of the dailies of Iraqi President Talabani’s Patriotic Union of Kurdistan described the new phase in Syria-Iraq relations as a chance for Syria to “minimize the accusations leveled against it” but noted that any security agreement needed an “appropriate and realistic mechanism” to ensure that Syria lived up to its commitments (Kurdistani Nuwe, 23 August). The government-run channel Al-Iraqiyah reported that “the Syrian side responded favorably to (Iraq’s security) demands,” but added: “The real results of this visit will materialize in the upcoming stage based on what is implemented on the ground” (22 August).

In addition, Iraqi media critical of the government reported that Damascus rejected Baghdad’s demand that it extradite hundreds of persons wanted in Iraq.

While the predominantly Saudi-owned Al-Arabiyah TV reported that Syria handed over 13 persons sought by Iraq (21 August), Dar al-Salam, the paper of Iraq’s leading Sunni party, reported that Damascus rejected Baghdad’s demand to hand over more than 300 other “politicians, military men, and Iraqi personalities opposing the Al-Maliki government” (23 August). Reporting that Al-Maliki had returned “empty-handed” from Damascus, the independent daily Al-Zaman cited an unidentified Syrian source as remarking: “Al-Maliki has forgotten that he himself, and some of the senior officials accompanying him . . . were political refugees in Syria” during the Saddam era (22 August).

A further point of contention was the presence of the Multinational Forces (MNF), which Al-Maliki insisted were in Iraq with the government’s approval while Syria pushed for a timetable for their withdrawal.

Al-Maliki said during his interview with Syrian television that the extension of the presence of the MNF had been “approved by all of the political blocs in the government and the Council of Representatives” (Syrian Space Channel TV, 22 August).

While the privately-owned Syrian daily Al-Watan played down the “contentious” MNF issue, saying that both sides were eager to highlight “points of agreement” (23 August), official Syrian sources continued to put heavy emphasis on a timetable for the MNF withdrawal as a precondition for Iraqi security, stability, and reconciliation (SANA, 20 August; Al-Thawrah, Tishrin, Al-Watan, 21 August). The joint statement issued at the end of the talks was closer to Baghdad’s stance, stressing as a precondition for the MNF withdrawal a “political and security atmosphere” enabling Baghdad to assume responsibility for protecting its citizens (SANA, 22 August). Syria Emphasizes Economic Agreements

On the Syrian side, officials and media portrayed the meetings as a success, highlighting several economic agreements, the most prominent of which dealt with the export of Iraqi fuel to Syria.

Syrian Prime Minister Itri said of Al-Maliki’s visit that it was “important in its implications and symbolism and successful in its results” (SANA, 22 August). He also highlighted the prevailing “fraternal” spirit and Syria’s desire to “move forward to broader horizons” between the two countries. Syrian media widely reported agreements to link Iraq’s Akkas gas field with the Syrian Dayr al-Zawr refinery and to “rehabilitate the oil pipeline from Kirkuk to Banyas” (SANA, Tishrin, 22 August). This OSC product is based exclusively on the content and behavior of selected media and has not been coordinated with other US Government components.

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