Iraq’s Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani met with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in Damascus, marking the first visit of its kind since the conflict in Syria began 12 years ago.
Addressing questions from the press, both leaders highlighted several key issues in their discussion. The issues ranged from cross-border drug trafficking, repatriation of Syrian refugees, and the urgency of lifting Western sanctions on Syria. Other subjects included Israeli attacks on Syria and the water shortage in the Euphrates River, which flows through both countries, caused by upstream damming in Turkey.
Al-Sudani also highlighted their discussion on combating drought conditions, a problem both nations face due to reduced rainfall and Turkey’s upstream damming. He emphasized the need for cooperation, saying, “We need to collaborate to get our fair share of water.”
Al-Sudani’s office mentioned that another significant topic was the collaboration to fight “terrorism.” Assad underscored this during a joint press conference with al-Sudani, acknowledging terrorism as one of the prime challenges facing both nations.
The conflict in Syria, which began in March 2011, resulted in the deaths of half a million people and displaced half of the country’s prewar population of 23 million, including over 5 million refugees. Iraq currently hosts around 250,000 Syrian refugees.
Al-Sudani expressed his government’s intention to “solve the issue of refugees and guarantee a safe return for them as soon as the situation becomes stable in places where they reside.” Al-Sudani further urged nations worldwide to begin repatriation efforts for their citizens in the al-Hol camp in northeast Syria, as Iraq does. The camp is home to about 51,000 people, including the relatives of ISIL members, who are considered to be among the most diehard ISIL supporters in the camp. The reluctance of many countries to repatriate their citizens arises from potential security threats they might pose.