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Iraq election: Syria positions itself as trade gateway to Europe for new government

Syria hopes that Iraq election results – due today – will usher in a government open to increasing trade. Previous attempts to boost economic ties were marred by Iraq's assertion that Syria was behind devastating 2009 bombings.

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Employees from the Iraqi Independent High Electoral Commission (IHEC) count ballots at a polling station for Iraq's parliamentary election in Damascus March 13. As the final Iraq election results are due today, Syria hopes for signs that postelection stability could bring an economic boost to Damascus.

Khaled Al-Hariri/Reuters

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As the final Iraq election results emerge today, Syria is eyeing its neighbor to the east for signs that postelection stability could bring an economic boost to Damascus.

With a struggling economy in the painful throes of economic liberalization, diminishing oil reserves, and a rapidly growing population pushing up the unemployment rates, Syria is in need of economic props – and trade and investment in Iraq could be a major one of them.

Iraq is already an important trade partner – the primary destination for Syrian exports, according to 2008 figures from the European Union – but historically tense relations between Damascus and Baghdad have capped the exchange below its potential.

Syrian-Iraqi trade reached $800 million in 2009, but that is still lower than trade prior to the 2003 invasion of Iraq, according to Syrian officials.

“There have been real missed opportunities,” says Peter Harling, the Damascus-based analyst for the International Crisis Group. “It is absurd that economic relations between Syria and Iraq aren’t better, because the potential is huge for both countries. It would also increase Syrian buy-in to stability in Iraq.”

Syria: Iraq's gateway to Europe?

If Baghdad’s new regime is willing to turn the page, Syria is interested in acting as a gateway between Iraq and Europe as reconstruction efforts gather pace. A train line between Iraq and Turkey via Syria, which opened in February this year, was seen as a boost to the trade potential.

Young Syrians willing to pay $4 for a coffee as economy picks up

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