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Syria: Syrian-Iraqi Hostility
Country Study > Chapter 5 > National Security > Syria and the Middle East Conflict > 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. 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.

Data as of April 1987

Last Updated: April 1987

Editor's Note: Country Studies included here were published between 1988 and 1998. The Country study for Syria was first published in 1991. Where available, the data has been updated through 2008. The date at the bottom of each section will indicate the time period of the data. Information on some countries may no longer be up to date. See the "Research Completed" date at the beginning of each study on the Title Page or the "Data as of" date at the end of each section of text. This information is included due to its comprehensiveness and for historical purposes.

Note that current information from the CIA World Factbook, U.S. Department of State Background Notes, Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade Country Briefs, the UK's Foreign and Commonwealth Office's Country Profiles, and the World Bank can be found on

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