BAGHDAD, (AP) – The prime ministers of Syria and Iraq agreed Saturday to boost cooperation in security and economic affairs during talks aimed at improving relations strained by Baghdad’s allegations that the Syrians were harboring Iraqi insurgents.
Syrian Prime Minister Naji al-Otari arrived Saturday for a two-day visit less than a month after Iraq formed a new government and brought to an end political negotiations that had dragged on since elections in March.
Syria’s official news agency said al-Otari would congratulate Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki on forming his government.
Iraqi government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh said the first round of talks was positive. The two leaders agreed that Iraqis would be able to enter Syria without visas and laid plans to improve cooperation in security, oil exploration, trade and electricity, which the Syrians will sell to Iraq, al-Dabbagh said.
Relations between the two Arab neighbors have been rocky for decades.
The two severed diplomatic ties in 1980 when they were ruled by rival wings of the Baath party. Syria supported Iran in the eight-year war with Saddam Hussein’s Iraq that ended in 1988.
Syria, which is predominantly Sunni, and mainly Shiite Iraq decided to restore formal relations in 2006, and al-Otari visited Baghdad in April 2009 for the first visit by a Syrian head of government since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion that toppled Saddam.
But both countries withdrew their ambassadors in August 2009 after suicide bombers attacked the Iraqi foreign and finance ministries, killing more than 100 people. Iraq blamed the attacks on two insurgents and alleged they were living in Syria, a charge the Syrians denied.
The attack was claimed by the Islamic State of Iraq, an al-Qaida front group.
Al-Maliki visited Syria last October in a bid for regional support during the negotiations that produced a new government two months later.