April 9, 2019

KNOWING YOUR ALLIES:

Three reasons why the Iraqi PM's visit to Iran is important (Hamidreza Azizi, April 8, 2019, Al Monitor)

First and foremost, the visit came amid increased pressure from the United States to limit Iran's influence in Iraq, giving the visit a symbolic aspect. Although the US administration agreed on March 20 to extend the sanctions waiver for Iraq, so it can import gas and electricity from Iran for a 90-day period, it has been pressuring Baghdad to eliminate its energy dependence on Tehran.

However, Iraq's parliamentary speaker Mohammed al-Halbusi said March 30 that his country needs at least three years to become "economically independent." Until then, Iraq needs to continue importing energy. Furthermore, Abdul Mahdi himself previously emphasized that his country is "not obliged" to abide by US sanctions against Iran. One of the main topics of discussion during both Rouhani's visit to Baghdad and Abdul Mahdi's visit to Tehran was how to bypass the sanctions in bilateral economic ties.

Apart from the sanctions, Washington has tried to dissuade Iraqi officials from expanding relations with the Islamic Republic by trying to depict Iran's role in Iraq as negative and destructive. Following Rouhani's visit to Iraq in March, US Special Representative for Iran Brian Hook claimed that Iran wants to turn Iraq into a province. Before Abdul Mahdi's departure to Tehran, Hook said Iran was responsible for the deaths of more than 600 American troops in Iraq.

Under such circumstances, Abdul Mahdi's visit and his expressed willingness to develop ties with the Islamic Republic were interpreted by the Iranian media as signs of Baghdad's indifference toward US positions. For instance, IRIB news agency, which is affiliated with Iran's state broadcaster, wrote that Abdul Mahdi's "visit to Iran has a special message for the United States." Iranian First Vice President Eshaq Jahangiri expressed the same view. During his meeting with Abdul Mahdi April 7, he said, "The clear message is that despite the American hostilities, Tehran and Baghdad are determined to comprehensively expand their ties."

The diplomatic aspect of Abdul Mahdi's visit was no less important. Two days before his trip, he hosted a high-ranking Saudi delegation, headed by Saudi Trade Minister Majid bin Abdullah al-Qasabi. The Saudi official was not only tasked with reopening the Saudi Consulate in Baghdad after nearly three decades of closure, but also with strengthening economic ties between the two countries, including providing Iraq with $1 billion in loans. The visit, a clear sign of Riyadh's desire to initiate a rapprochement with Baghdad, was interpreted as being aimed at curbing Iran's influence in Iraq. 

However, not only did the Saudi charm offensive not affect Abdul Mahdi's bid for closer relations with the Islamic Republic, it apparently made him eager to play a mediating role between the two rivals. Upon the Iraqi leader's arrival in Tehran, the media reported that an Iraqi mediation plan was to be presented to Tehran. According to media reports, the plan has been in the works since Abdul Mahdi's visit to Egypt in March, and it will be discussed with Saudi officials during his visit to Riyadh next month.



Posted by at April 9, 2019 12:02 AM

  

« ...AND CHEAPER...: | Main | IT'S THE ONE THING HE HAS RIGHT: »