BAGHDAD – Iranian President Hassan Rouhani began a three-day state visit to Iraq Monday by meeting host President Barham Salih, amid hopes of increasing the volume of trade between the two countries. It is also connected to the mutual defense interests which the two states currently share.
While it is still uncertain how far Iraq will go to strengthen economic ties with Tehran, Iraq has been Iran’s most important trading partner in recent years. Furthermore, Iran’s support has been critical in Iraq’s anti-terrorism campaign against ISIS – a campaign against terrorism which is coupled with a continued push to end the US occupation of Iraq.
The US still holds considerable leverage over political processes in Iraq – within what was formerly referred to as the ‘Green Zone’, the US has built the largest of its military bases in Iraq. From this base, all sorts of operations can be executed beyond the standard or expected military-type exercises. Experts have long determined that ISIS and Al-Qaeda type groups organize within and are deployed from this ‘Green Zone’. Hit-men and death squads can be actively deployed from this ‘Green Zone’ to threaten, extort, kidnap, and otherwise coerce Iraqi politicians into positions favorable to the United States in cases where simple bribery or otherwise empty threats will not do.
Iran is determined to strengthen “fraternal ties” with Iraq, President Hassan Rouhani declared before his first official visit to the neighboring Arab country as head of the executive branch of the Islamic Republic, on March 11th. The local observers called the visit between the head of the Iraqi Government and the President of Iran “historical” as well as a “convincing signal” to the United States and its regional allies that Tehran still has a special relationship with Baghdad, where the predominantly Shiite government and parliament are in power.
“We are very interested in expanding our ties with Iraq, especially our transport cooperation,” said Rouhani at the Mehrabad airport in Tehran before flying to the Iraqi capital. “We have important projects that will be discussed during this visit.”
Following the three-day visit of the representative delegation of Iran, a number of agreements are expected to be signed in such areas as energy, transport, agriculture, industry and health care. It is reported by the Iranian state news agency IRNA.
“Iraq is another channel for Iran, bypassing America’s unfair sanctions imposed on Iran. This trip will provide opportunities for the Iranian economy, ”a senior Iranian official accompanying Rouhani told Reuters on condition of anonymity.
Iraq agreed with Iran on the issue of creating a barter system for food products from the Arab Republic for the Iranian gas and electricity supplied to it, FRN has learned from sources in the Iraqi government. Thus, Baghdad hopes to continue importing energy and electricity from Iran, exchanging them for products, but is awaiting Washington’s reaction, who in turn wants the Iraqi government to cut ties with its neighbor in the energy sector. Since last autumn, Iraq has been waiting for the US’s attitude towards the proposal to increase its imports Iranian gas, which is used at its power plants, since Baghdad needs more time to find an alternative source of supply. Earlier, after tightening the unilateral US anti-Iran sanctions in November, the US administration gave Iraq 45 days to terminate its energy ties with Tehran.
Image: Iraq’s President Barham Salih walks with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani during a welcome ceremony at Salam Palace in Baghdad, Iraq, March 11, 2019.