Erosion and Resilience of the Iraqi-Syrian Border

18 Pages Posted: 19 Sep 2015

Date Written: September 2015


Syria and Iraq’s accelerating fragmentation has prompted feverish speculation about the erasure of the modern Middle East’s Western-imposed borders. Such notions are not altogether divorced from reality: Syria and Iraq today are scarcely recognizable as nation-states, and their once rigid border has become increasingly porous while falling entirely from governmental control. Yet this erosion must not be mistaken for dissolution. The post-Ottoman border continues to serve an array of material and symbolic functions, and as such will remain of paramount relevance, as a resilient object of contention, for the foreseeable future. By grappling with this paradoxical state of mutation and durability — and by tracing its roots back into the late twentieth century — we can draw broader insights into the seismic changes roiling the Middle East, where brittle, centralizing power structures are increasingly giving way to a more grassroots and fluid political landscape with which Western actors have yet to come to terms.

Keywords: Syria, Iraq, Borders, Kurds, Islamic State, Sykes-Picot

Suggested Citation

Harling, Peter and Simon, Alex, Erosion and Resilience of the Iraqi-Syrian Border (September 2015). Robert Schuman Centre for Advanced Studies Research Paper No. RSCAS 2015/61, Available at SSRN: or

Alex Simon

Independent ( email )

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