Opening Iraq-Syria border gives Iran yet another advantage
Eight years after it was closed, Iraq has opened its Qaim border crossing with Syria in an attempt to revitalise trade between the two neighbouring countries.
Islamic State (ISIS) extremists had held the area around the desert border crossing half a decade ago but with their defeat and the ever-growing dominance of Iran-backed but Iraq-sanctioned Shia jihadists, it would appear Tehran believes it is time to move on with its plan to make its movements from Iran to the Mediterranean flow better.
Iran’s plan to make this vast territory almost one contiguous entity as part of an informal empire it dominates has taken another step towards fruition and the international community must act.
Let us not forget that, following the downfall of the Saddam Hussein regime in 2003, the new Iraqi authorities, jointly supported by Iran and the United States, albeit for different reasons, had sealed its border with Syria.
The Bashar Assad regime in Syria, which has always been close to Iran, began facilitating the transit of Sunni jihadists, including al-Qaeda operatives, into Iraq. Analysts said the intention was to pressure the United States by bleeding its military power in Iraq so any idea of “regime change” would be forced from Washington’s strategic calculus.
However, considering the Assad regime’s proximity to Iran’s mullahs, it seems apparent the Syrians worked hand in glove with the Iranians, whom WikiLeaks linked to supporting al-Qaeda extremists in 2010.
With this in mind, Syria directly supported terrorists in Iraq in coordination with Iran to the detriment of the Iraqi people, first and foremost, and the occupying US forces second.
What has fundamentally changed to justify Iraq’s reopening of its border crossing with Syria?
It cannot be that Syria is an oasis of stability in a tumultuous neighbourhood that has vast economic opportunities. The Assad regime, while it has almost crushed the Syrian opposition with Russian and Iranian help, has presided over one of the worst economies on Earth, with a population wracked with fear and with many large business contracts going to those — Moscow and Tehran — who aided the Assad regime in its time of need. It is not as though it is a thriving hub for commerce and trade.
The answer is Iran wants to ensure that it can more easily move, not only men and materiel into the Syrian theatre, but it also wants the excuse of “trade” to more easily conceal nefarious shipments.
Israel has repeatedly struck targets in Iraq belonging to the Iran-backed Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF), an umbrella group of Shia jihadists that have been formally made a part of the Iraqi armed forces by Baghdad. Some of those targets included Iranian ballistic missiles concealed in refrigerated trucks masquerading as fruit and vegetable delivery vehicles. In other words, civilian shipping routes can be used for covert military purposes.
With the Iraqi side of the border being secured by the PMF and the Syrian side being secured by an enormous Iranian military presence at a new base at Albukamal, there can be no doubt about Tehran’s intentions.
As usual, the government in Baghdad merely plays a passive role because Iranians are calling the shots. This is more prevalent considering heightened US-Iranian tensions and how Iran wants to ensure that it cannot be challenged, neither in the Arabian Gulf nor on likely land routes that could be used for military confrontation with it.
With the lack of firm US action to create a less pro-Iran environment in Iraq’s political, security and economic spheres of influence, it seems likely Tehran’s influence will spread and grow without challenge.