The Syrian interior minister and the head of Iraq’s Border Ports Commission attended a ceremony at the crossing Monday, after the minister, Khaled al-Rahmoun, walked across the border into Iraq from the Syrian side in a symbolic gesture marking the official opening.
“The opening of the Bukamal-Qaim crossing today is the result of our peoples’ victories over various armed terrorist organizations, the most important being the terrorist Daesh organization,” Rahmoun told reporters, using an Arabic acronym for the Islamic State.
“This big victory would not have occurred without the heroes of the Syrian army and its allies, and the heroes of the heroic Iraqi army and the Popular Mobilization Forces,” he said.
Kadhim al-Iqabi, the head of Iraq’s Border Ports Commission, told The Washington Post the crossing would be open for trade and travelers.
The Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), known as al-Hashd al-Shaabi, is a coalition of mostly Shiite Muslim militias, some aligned with Iran. The group witnessed several airstrikes on both sides of the Syria-Iraq border in the past few months and publicly blamed Israel for the deaths and injuries within its ranks.
On Monday, citing a soon-to-be-published interview, Al Jazeera TV reported that Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi said investigations indicate that Israel is responsible for attacks on some PMF positions in Iraq. Israel has not commented officially on the allegation.
Iran, a supporter of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad during Syria’s eight-year-long conflict, has allies positioned on both sides of the border crossing, not far from a U.S. military base in Iraq’s Anbar province.
Tensions between Tehran and Washington have escalated in recent months following an attack on Saudi Arabia’s oil facility, in which Iran denies involvement. President Trump ordered increased sanctions after the attack, which was claimed by Yemen’s Iran-aligned Houthi rebel group.
The border crossing was closed in 2012 following clashes between the Syrian army and Syrian rebels who had overtaken the area. The Islamic State took over the border area in 2014, before being driven out in 2017.
An adviser to the small Iraqi party known as the Iraq Rescue Council, Abdulsattar al-Bahadili, said the crossing’s reopening will benefit PMF leaders financially, although he also expressed hope they would not be the only ones.
“Anbar’s people suffered a lot during the past few years after they were attacked and displaced,” he said. “I hope that they get to benefit from this trade with Syria and not just certain groups that control the border areas.”
Ammar Youssef, an economist who backs the Syrian government, said trade between Iraq and Syria will not be nearly as good as it was before the war, for two reasons.
“First, the products that Syria used to cultivate or manufacture and Iraq needed are now scarce and barely sufficient for domestic use due to the war that destroyed factories and ceased certain industries,” he said.
“Second, during the past few years, Iraq developed trade relations with other countries that now support it with what it used to import from Syria; Iraq also developed local manufacturing of products that it used to import.”