One of the great tragedies of the 20th century history of Syria and Iraq is that two countries that have much to gain from a shared experience have been politically divided, even when technically being governed by two factions of the same party.
Attempts at unity
Serious consideration of a Syria-Iraq union started in 1958 when Iraq’s Hashemite monarchy was overthrown in the 14 July Revolution. Many Iraqi Arabists favoured joining what was then the United Arab Republic comprised of Egypt and Syria. Ultimately the Iraqi Premier Abd al-Karim Qasim quashed an idea that was generally popular with his countrymen and three years later, in 1961, Syria and Egypt also split, thus ending the United Arab Republic.
In 1963 the Ramadan Revolution in Iraq and the 8 March Revolution in Syria both brought the Arab Socialist Ba’ath Party to power. The impetus for unity was strong, but ultimately it did not happen as factions within the Ba’ath party in both countries began competing over a pan-Arabist/Nasserist versus a strictly nationalist agenda. In Iraq, the Ba’ath party was overthrown the same year it came to power in a November coup which saw pan-Arabist Nasserists come to power.
Division and discord
In 1966, the united Ba’ath party split between rival Syrian and Iraq factions. When the 17 July Revolution in Iraq brought the Ba’athists back to power in 1968, the Syrian and Iraqi divisions of the party remained split in spite of a clear geopolitical case for unity.
In 1972 a loose federation between Egypt, Libya and Syria formed, known as the Federation of Arab Republics was formed. This clearly made Iraq a likely candidate to join such a union. Ultimately this loose federation broke up in 1977, but this was ironically the same time that talks between the Iraqi and Syrian leadership began to intensify.
The 1973 Arab-“Israeli” war led to further debates over whether Syria and Iraq should unify, while wider schemes regarding unity between Libya, Egypt, Iraq and Syria also transpired. Ultimately, joint discussions between Baghdad and Damascus broke-up after Syria and Iraq disputed the efficacy of Syria accepting UN Resolution 338 regarding a ceasefire with “Israel”.
In spite of this, later in the 1970s, talks were underway between Iraqi President Ahmed Hassan al-Bakr and Syrian President Hafez al-Assad regarding plans for an eventual merger of the two nations. By 1979, President al-Bakr was increasingly ill and sought to speed up the process of unity. This all changed when his Vice President Saddam Hussein took power in 1979. Saddam was opposed to any form of unity with Syria and even executed members of his own party who allegedly favoured a friendly stance towards Damascus during his infamous 1979 purge. This killed any hopes of unity for two generations.
New 21st realities
Today, the situation is incredibly different. The governments of both countries have found common ground cooperating against foreign funded Takfiri terrorism, both enjoy a positive partnership with Iran and both look to re-assert a strong sense of anti-western sovereignty when the many conflicts within the wider war on Takfiri terrorism are over.
With the US reticent to leave Iraqi soil, in spite of the wishes of most Iraqi officials and the vast majority of the Iraqi people and with Syria looking for a way to end the wholly illegal presence of US troops on Syrian soil, a common cause can and should be made between Iraq and Syria.
A proposal for unity
I propose the formation of the United Arab Republics of Syria and Iraq. Under such an agreement both countries would have a common president which logically would be Bashar al-Assad, both countries would have a single foreign policy, all regions of the countries would have an a non-partisan but patriotic governor appointed directly by the President and both Syria and Iraq would have elected parliaments and prime ministers to oversee the infrastructural and domestic developments of both nations in the union. All regions would have a proportional share in the national revenues of the United Republics.
This way Syria and Iraq would be able to preserve their identity and unique status as geographical units, while regional governess would insure that certain factional customs of localities would be respected, while the countries would have a common united foreign policy under one strong and respected leader.
Furthermore, Arabic would be the only constitutionally and legally recognised language, but in the private sector, local languages would be permissible in regions that are home to minorities who speaking non-Arabic languages, such as Kurdish. Also, all militant groups, irregardless of their political affiliations would have to either join the regular armed forces or disband.
Finally, both nations ought to sign a security pact with Iran and a non-aggression pact with Turkey in which Turkey agrees not to intervene in the domestic affairs of the United Arab Republics, while the United Arab Republics promise to eradicate nationalist Kurdish militant groups in cooperation with Ankara. The united Republics should also maintain a foreign policy goal of liberating the Golan Heights from illegal Zionist occupation.
Such a proposal would clearly be met with opposition from both sides, but the historically high level of cooperation between Baghdad and Damascus combined with the ability of such a united republic to quill all forms of sectarianism by creating a vast country with large amounts of both Shi’as, Sunnis and various Christian denominations, could represent a clear win-win for peace, sovereignty, Arabism and multi-polarity. Such a state would also become incredibly attractive to China’s One Belt–One Road strategists as it would offer a clearer path towards the cultivation of trade and infrastructural develop across a common area of geo-strategic importance.
If such discussions were held even in the decade after the tragic 1966 Ba’ath party split, surely they can be held at a time when fraternal feelings exist between the two nations and when both nations could benefit greatly from a united front against common enemies.