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Members of the Iraqi security forces stand guard atop a military vehicle at the border-crossing between Al-Qaim in Iraq and Bukamal in Syria on the Iraqi side of the border, on September 30, 2019. Image Credit: AFP

Qaim: Iraq and Syria on Monday opened a key border crossing between the two neighboring countries, seven years after it was closed during Syria’s civil war and the battle against Daesh.

The opening of the crossing linking the Iraqi town of Qaim and Syria’s Bukamal is expected to strengthen trade between the two Arab countries.

But it is also a boost to Iran’s influence in the region, allowing Iran-backed militias in Iraq easier access to eastern Syria amid soaring tensions in the region between Tehran and Washington following the collapse of Iran’s nuclear deal with world powers.

In a symbolic gesture, Syrian Interior Minister Maj. Gen. Mohammed Khaled Rahmoun, accompanied by Syrian troops, crossed onto the Iraqi side of the border, where troops from both countries hugged each other and took selfies.

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Rahmoun walks at the border. Image Credit: Reuters

Qaim and Bukamal were controlled by Daesh until 2017, when Syrian and Iraqi troops captured the towns from the extremist.

The group’s territorial defeat was announced in Syria earlier this year.

Iraqi authorities had set up tents for Monday’s ceremony amid tight security, with troops deployed around the crossing.

Despite their official defeat, Daesh sleeper cells are still blamed for deadly attacks on both sides of the border.

The opening of the crossing was postponed several times in recent weeks.

Earlier in September, Syria blamed Israel for a nighttime air strike on an arms depot and posts of Iranian-backed militias in Bukamal that opposition activist said killed at least 18 fighters.

Israel considers Iran to be its greatest enemy, and as Syria’s civil war winds down, it has repeatedly warned that it will not allow Iranian troops - who have been fighting alongside Syrian President Bashar Assad’s forces - to maintain a permanent presence in postwar Syria.

Historical crossing

Qaim was once a thriving stopover on the highway linking Damascus and Baghdad.

Map of the crossing Image Credit: Gulf News

Long before a hard border materialised in the latter half of the 20th century, tribes sent their grooms and brides across the frontier to marry, extending the branches of their families on both sides.

Syria and Iraq have three key border crossings between them, with Bukamal the only one controlled by the Assad’s government. The second one is controlled by U.S.-backed Kurdish-led fighters known as the Syrian Democratic Forces, while the third crossing, the nearby Tanf, is held by U.S.-backed Syrian rebels.