Strategic Relations Between Saudi Arabia And Iraq

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Strategic, cooperative relationships between states in the Middle East have tended to be inconsistent and volatile - examples being the alliance between Egypt and Syria that coalesced into the short-lived United Arab Republic in 1958 and the shifting relationships between Saudi Arabia and Iraq . In fact, in Walt’s list of eighteen Middle Eastern regional alliances formed between 1955 and 1979, none lasted for longer than five years (Walt, 1987, p.150). In light of this heritage, it is therefore particularly remarkable that the most persistent regional arrangement to-date has been between Syria, a secular, Arab and predominantly Sunni state and Iran, a Persian, Shia theocracy.

And the relationship has certainly been persistent, with the
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President al-Assad of Syria and his inner circle are Alawites; a religious sect that broke from mainstream Shi’ism in the 9th century. As a member of a Shia minority running an otherwise predominantly Sunni state , it would seem natural to look to Iran for support. From Iran’s perspective too, when viewed though this sectarian prism, it would seem to be expedient to support a nominally Shia regime in order to prevent Syria becoming another member of the regional ‘Sunni camp’. In support of this analysis, Agha and Khalidi claim that “the Shiite-Alawite connection did play an important part in the development of Syrian-Iranian relations and may in fact be seen as one of the main motors of the of the emerging alliance between the two countries” (Agha and Khalidi, 1995, p.4). Others extend this idea of a ‘sectarian allegiance’ further, describing it as part of a ‘Shia Crescent’ that encompasses not only Iran and Syria but also post-war Iraq and the increasingly significant Hezbollah movement in Lebanon. This approach clearly sees religion as a ‘key binding agent’ in this regional configuration.

So is this a persuasive analysis? Certainly, sectarianism has played a significant role in the domestic political history of both nations. In Syria, as Horowitz explains “ethnic politics is defined in confessional terms” (Horowitz, 2001, p.492) with the Ba’athist coup of 1963 being followed by purges of Sunnis from the military and civil services until by 1969 “the Alawi were left
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