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This book examines the perplexing twists and turns in Syria-Iraq relations which since the establishment of modern Syria and Iraq after the First World War have zigzagged between co-operation and hostility countless times. It questions why both countries switched regional and international alliances, but never formed one of their own, and assesses the role played by structural forces such as geopolitics, ideology, and regime survival. It also argues that a key factor was the individual personalities – the agency role – of Hafez Assad and Saddam Hussain, both of whom had a monopoly of power, similar ambitions and leadership styles, and great mistrust of each other, with the result that they clashed.

It goes on to show how both were caught between commitment to pan-Arabism and the imperative for regime survival, and how this led them both to weaken pan-Arabism instead and construct sectarian polarisation to ensure regime survival. The book concludes that their ruthless fight left a heavy legacy where in both countries regime survival overshadowed state consolidation and nation-building, with both countries divided into smaller communities of faiths and ethnicities at war with each other.


Amjed Rasheed is a lecturer in defence studies (assistant professor) in the Defence Studies Department. Before his tenure at King's College, Amjed held academic positions at Tübingen University's Institute of Political Science from 2020 to 2021 and at Lancaster University’s Department of Politics, Philosophy, and Religion from 2022 to 2023. In addition, he served as the Hillary Rodham Clinton Fellow at Queen’s University Belfast's School of History, Anthropology, Philosophy, and Politics from 2022 to 2023.

Book reviews

'A fascinating comparison of Saddam Hussein and Hafiz al-Asad, two despotic rulers who impacted not only their respective countries, Iraq and Syria, but the region as a whole. Their legacies are continuing to haunt their countries, and this study allows us to understand the ramifications.'

Joseph Sassoon, Al-Sabah Chair in Politics and Political Economy of the Arab World, Professor and Director, Center for Contemporary Arab Studies (CCAS), Georgetown University, USA

‘Amjed Rasheed's book usefully updates one of the most fraught and consequential relationships in the Middle East to the present "age of denominations." Plausibly combining considerations of structure and agency, it exposes once again the regime-survival motivations masked by nationalist rhetoric.’

Malik Mufti, Professor of Political Science, Tufts University, USA

'Amjed Rasheed has written a lucid and highly readable account of the vicissitudes of Iraqi-Syrian relations over the decades. Understandably looming large in the story are the figures of Saddam Hussain and Hafez Assad, their insecurities, ambitions and statecraft. But equally important, as this book makes clear, are the permissive environments, domestically and internationally, that gave them agency and that perpetuate their troubling legacies into the present.'

Charles Tripp, Professor Emeritus of Politics with reference to the Middle East and North Africa, SOAS, University of London, UK

At this event

Amjed  Rasheed

Lecturer in Defence Studies

Event details

Anatomy Museum
King's Building
Strand Campus, Strand, London, WC2R 2LS