When you think of Iraq and Syria, you probably think of these two countries’ long, tragic histories. However, they also share a border. While conflicts between their respective governments have been going on for years now, the conflict has recently escalated to the point where it’s become almost impossible to ignore unless you live under a rock.
This article discusses what would happen if Syria and Iraq united. Would it be a good thing? Or is it more likely to make things even worse? Keep reading to find out!
What Is Happening in Iraq and Syria Right Now?
Although many people have misunderstood the situation, Iraq and Syria have been in a state of war for years. While the First Iraq War is often remembered as having been about the Iraqi people trying to overthrow dictator Saddam Hussein (it wasn’t), the Second Iraq War was about the US trying to overthrow dictator Saddam Hussein (it was).
While Hussein was captured in the first war and executed after the second, his two successors—his son, Uday, and his (more moderate) half-brother, Qusay—were killed in the Second Iraq War.
After the death of Qusay Hussein, the Iraqi people elected a new president, a man named Bashar al-Assad. Fast forward some years, and now al-Assad’s government and the government of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein al-Maliki have been at war with each other for some time. The Syrian people, meanwhile, have a large civil war of their own going on as well, between the government and anti-government forces.
Why Might Syria and Iraq Unite?
Syria and Iraq have many reasons to want to unite. For one thing, the economies of both countries are struggling, especially the Syrian economy. It is estimated that it would take more than $50 billion to rebuild the country’s infrastructure after the war. That’s a really big number. Meanwhile, Iraq is dealing with its economic problems, like the decreased price of oil.
Another reason that these two countries might want to unite is that they are both majority-Sunni Muslims. Sunni and Shia Muslims have been fighting for centuries, and many countries want to ensure that fighting doesn’t cross over into their territory. At the same time, the region to the west of them (including Lebanon, Jordan, and Israel) is majority-Shia Muslim.
How Could a Syrian-Iraqi Confederation Work?
A Syria-Iraq Confederation would be a little like when a few US states (such as Virginia, Maryland, and Delaware) formed a “Dominion.” The states all remain separate, but they have one central government. (Technically, the US itself is a federal system, so it’s like a “super-Dominion.”) The Syria-Iraq Confederation could also be like the European Union, which includes many separate and sovereign countries that share a single currency.
A Syria-Iraq Confederation could be like the former USSR, a single “super-state” with several smaller “Soviet Socialist Republics” such as Ukraine and Belarus. The idea behind a Syrian-Iraqi Confederation is that the two states would share a single government: perhaps with a parliament and a president composed of representatives from each country. Of course, that’s only the idea behind a Confederation. The reality could be very different.
Pros of a Unified Syria-Iraq
- The two countries might stop fighting each other. That’s a big one.
- The two countries might increase economic cooperation and growth.
- Finally, the two countries might increase political cooperation and growth.
- The two countries might increase cooperation in other areas. For example, they might work together on climate change and fighting terrorism.
- The two countries might be able to get better trade deals with the rest of the world.
- The two countries might be able to get better loans from the World Bank, International Monetary Fund, and other financial institutions. That would give them money to help rebuild their economies.
Cons of a Unified Syria-Iraq
- The two countries might become more powerful and dangerous. Let’s face it—we don’t want a super-sized Syria-Iraq on our borders.
- The two countries might become less democratic and more authoritarian. Some countries (such as China) have become more democratic over time. But others, such as the former USSR, have become less democratic.
- The two countries might become more anti-American. Again, it’s true that some other countries have become more open to American influence.
- Some countries have seen their economies grow as they become more democratic. But others have seen their economies shrink. The two countries might become less prosperous and more poverty-stricken.
Should the US Try to Help This Occur?
The US should not try to help a Syrian-Iraqi Confederation actively. Remember, the reasons behind a Syrian-Iraqi Confederation might be good but also very bad. The US has good relations with both Iraq and Syria right now. It might be too risky to help the two countries come together.
The US might be better off letting the two countries stay separate. There’s also the issue that the two countries are very different—they’re not just different regarding religion. They have completely different cultures, histories, and languages.
Trying to force them together might be like trying to force together two completely different countries (such as the US and Mexico). It might work, but it might also create big problems.
There are many reasons why the US might want to keep Syria and Iraq as separate countries. They have different cultures, histories, and languages. There’s a lot of distrust between the two countries.
Integrating Syria and Iraq would create the world’s largest single economy by GDP (over $1.5 trillion), equivalent to the size of Brazil. It would be the world’s largest oil exporter, the world’s largest wheat importer, and the world’s second-largest population – all in one territory. The combined territory would have vast resources and a strong manufacturing and agricultural base.
The Iraq-Syria border would be the largest land crossing in the world, allowing unfettered access between the two economies. The border would also be the only bridge between Asia and Africa, making it the world’s largest trade route. The economies of Syria and Iraq are both dominated by the oil sector. Iraq is one of the world’s top 10 producers, and Syria’s only significant industry is oil extraction. While both oil and agriculture are robust industries, their integration would be a significant challenge.
There is an existing oil pipeline at the border between the two countries, but it would require significant investment to expand it to move agricultural goods. Similarly, the two economies are agricultural, but the transition of farming operations from one country to another would be extremely challenging.
One of the key political implications of an integrated Iraq and Syria would be the end of the Sykes-Picot Agreement. The agreement between France and Britain to divide the Arab world into two spheres of influence – British influence in Iraq and French influence in Syria – created modern-day borders in the Middle East.
It would not be easy to imagine that two nations already so closely allied would not simply choose to unite into one. It would significantly reduce the influence of neighboring powers. Iran would lose its access to the Mediterranean Sea, and Saudi Arabia would lose access to Iraq’s lucrative southern fields.
A united Iraq and Syria would mute the Sunni-Shia conflict between Saudi Arabia and Iran. The two countries would largely be a Sunni nations, with a Shia minority in the south.
A united Iraq and Syria would be overwhelmingly Arab, with a small minority of ethnic and religious minorities in the south. There are significant cultural differences between the two countries, but the differences would be minimized by the influx of Syrian refugees following the conclusion of their civil war. While most Syrians identify as Sunni Muslims, Iraq has a significant Shia Muslim minority that would become the majority if the two countries were to unite.
The most significant cultural difference between the two countries is language. Iraqis speak Arabic, while Syrians speak Levantine Arabic (a dialect of Arabic). However, both countries are located in the Arab world, and the differences are largely cosmetic.
A More Stable Border
The border separating the two countries is currently one of the most unstable in the world. The Syrian civil war has prompted millions of refugees to flee Iraq, overwhelming the country’s resources and leading to significant political pressure in Baghdad. A significant portion of the border is controlled by the Islamic State (ISIS), which regularly crosses the border to conduct attacks in both countries.
The border between the two countries is 1,100 kilometers long and largely unguarded, making it extremely difficult to patrol and secure. Integrating the border would provide a long-term solution to many of these issues. There would be a single authority on the border, with resources dedicated to securing it and preventing civilian flows.
A stable border would also allow freer trade and the movement of goods between the two nations. It would create a more stable economy by reducing the cost of imports and increasing exports.
Improved Co-ordination of Regional Forces
The two countries have been heavily involved in the ongoing regional conflict, as both sides have been drawn into the fight. Iraq is fighting ISIS militants in the country’s north and western Anbar province. At the same time, Syria has been engaged in a civil war between Syrian government forces and various rebel factions since 2011.
The significant investment in these conflicts has been costly financially and in terms of human lives. Syria has seen more than 400,000 deaths and millions of refugees, while the war in Iraq has seen approximately 36,000 deaths. The costs of these conflicts, combined with the significant strain on government resources, have made it difficult for the countries to coordinate and effectively respond to crises.
Renewed Prosperity and Cultural Ties
The two countries have long been connected culturally, but the consequences of war have severed much of the cultural ties between the two nations. A united Iraq and Syria would significantly increase cultural exchanges and links.
A united Iraq and Syria would benefit from a shared economy, a single cultural identity, and a reduction in the sectarian divide that has plagued both nations for decades. The two countries would become one of the world’s cultural hubs, with significant museums, art galleries, and universities. A single shared culture would also make it easier for artists to travel and perform in both countries, allowing them to reach more people with their work.
A more stable, peaceful, and prosperous Iraq and Syria would be a significant boon for the region and the world. A single country could also devote more resources to rebuilding infrastructure, economies, and lives following the devastating wars that have plagued both countries in recent years. A single country could focus on its interests rather than being drawn into the region’s political and military conflict that has become a hallmark.
Sectarian Violence Will Escalate
A unified Iraq and Syria would likely exacerbate the sectarian violence that has plagued the region for decades. It may manifest in various ways, including the following:
- The rise of extremist groups that target specific religious or cultural groups.
- The expansion of extremist groups and a potential resurgence of ISIS.
- The establishment of new alliances based on sectarian identity.
- The increased number of refugees is moving away from the conflict.
- A larger conflict between Sunni and Shi’a Islam.
- Increased hostilities between Iran and Saudi Arabia.
Iraq and Syria have been at the center of the sectarian strife in the Middle East for years, and a unified country would likely increase the severity of these issues. Iran and Saudi Arabia are primarily responsible for funding sectarian violence in the region, and both stand to benefit from a larger conflict.
A unified Iraq and Syria would likely experience increased influence from outside powers. It would be true that the new government can effectively project itself beyond its borders. The potential for a larger conflict between Iran and Saudi Arabia was mentioned above and would likely draw in outside parties. Iran is currently the dominant power in the region, and Iraq and Syria provide a strategic pathway toward Saudi Arabia.
The new country would also have the potential to become involved in a larger political or economic conflict between China, the United States, and other major powers. If the new government can establish itself as a significant economic and political player, it will likely be drawn into these larger conflicts. It would have significant geopolitical implications that would be felt throughout the world.
If you’re like us, you’re not sure that a Syrian-Iraqi Confederation would be a good idea. We’re not sure how it would work, who would lead it, or what would happen to all the people of the country who would be left out. We’re also not sure that the reasons behind the Syria-Iraq Confederation make sense. We’d keep these two countries separate if we were the people in charge.
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