In a visit in which the economic files occupy the priority , Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has arrived in Baghdad on Monday for a three-day visit, carrying numerous economic files and other political files. Rouhani’s first visit to Iraq comes amidst a worsening economic situation of Tehran following the US sanctions imposed on it, as it seeks partners to extract it from the negative repercussions on many of its sectors . The Iranian president said before leaving Mehrabad airport in Tehran: “Iran-Iraq relations are special relations that can not be compared with those established by the United States,”. The visi was preceded by previous visits of Iranian officials, led by Foreign minister Mohammed Jawad Zarif who visited the country last month and his tour lasted five days followed by the visit of the assistant Foreign minister Abbas Araghchi. Zarif also returned to Baghdad on the night before yesterday . While the Iranian ambassador in Baghdad, IraJ Masjedi, moves and visits to the Iraqi provinces.
Iranian president Hassan Rouhani praised the role of his country alongside Iraq in the fight against what he called terrorism , while his Iraqi counterpart Barham Salih stressed the neutrality of Baghdad’s position on regional and international conflicts . Rouhani said in a joint news conference with Salih after their talks in Baghdad today that Iraq is safe and stable helps to achieve security and stability in the region . He pointed out that there are broad areas of cooperation with Iraq , including trade, energy ,investment and transport . For his part , the Iraqi president praised the Iranian support for his country in combating the organization of the Islamic state , saying that the victory over what he described as terrorism has not been completed , and the eradication of extremism needs more regional cooperation and effort . He stressed that Iraq is lucky to be with neighbored with its Islamic side of Iran and Turkey and its Arab neighbors. He added that the time has come for the region to revive economically through joint cooperation. Salih said ” we discussed the establishment of interconnected infrastructure between the two countries by linking the railways and the establishment of industrial zones and cooperation in the field of energy and lifting obstacles to visitors to the threshold and Holy Shrines and revealed important agreements with Iran that ill be announced today and will contribute to the interests of both peoples and the region
Observers see that the agenda of the visit and the most important files are the economic and commercial aspects which will be strongly present during the talks Rohani and the accompanying economic delegation, with Iraqi officials, indicating that the issue of electricity and providing Iraq with energy from the Iranian side will be at the top of those files which have been discussed several times . They added that Iraq is seeking to resolve the outstanding issues with Iran, including the Algiers agreement in 1975 to demarcate land and water borders and joint oil fields between the two countries. A memorandum of understanding will also be signed to establish a joint free zone between the two countries and an Iraqi –Iranian bank , and they pointed out that the Iraqi trade ministry formed committees that will work with the Iranian delegation, which will arrive with Rouhani, to activate the agreement on customs cooperation and double taxation and lift the visa between the two sides to expedite the signing of the memos, “adding:” The committees will also study the establishment of joint investment projects in areas affected by terrorism. The observers added that “the volume of trade exchange between the two countries currently amounts to 13 billion dollars, and the two countries are seeking to increase.” They stressed that “the visit is of great importance in the economic field of the two countries at the same time,” explaining that the Iranian goods are very popular in the Iraqi market, for cheap prices. For his part, the Iranian ambassador in Iraq, Masjedi said in a press statement that “one of the most important programs of the visit to be conducted by Rouhani, to hold talks to strengthen relations between the two countries in the political, economic and cultural fields,” noting that the current files between the two countries are in the field of energy and others.
In the face of the US-Iranian tensions, Rouhani’s visit would seem to be devoted to “discussing specific issues”, and Rouhani came to discuss the issue of trade exchanges. The issue of easing it in the local Iraqi currency and finding other ways, like Germany and Britain, any alternative European currency to circumvent US sanctions. Tehran hopes to complete the Khorramshahr- Basra project, which Rouhani is scheduled to discuss with the Iraqi side during the visit. The Iranian sources regard it as a strategic project linking Iran to the Syrian Mediterranean city of Latakia via Iraq. The official IRNA news agency reported earlier , quoting the assistant director of the Iranian railway company Mazyar Yazdany as said ” it remained only 32 kilometers for the completion of the railway project linking Iran to Iraq through the construction of a 800-meter-long movable bridge over the river of Arund Road (Shatt al-Arab) explaining that his country will continue to complete the project inside the Iraqi territories to connect the project to the railway line of the city of Basra ,” .
Iraq is another channel for Iran to avoid US sanctions on Iran. The visit will provide opportunities for Iran’s troubled economy since US President Donald Trump decided in May to withdraw from the nuclear deal signed in 2015 between Iran and six major powers. Iran is counting on the visit because of its suffering from US sanctions imposed by the US president Donald Trump in two stages in August and November of 2018, prompting its leaders to try to expand trade relations with neighboring countries .It has become clear that the economic sanctions are beginning to do its job directly and affect the performance of the Iranian economy in many areas . Hezbullah’s secretary general , Hassan Nasraullah , did not urge his public and supporters to donate anything but a sign of a severe shortage of Iranian liquidity , given that Tehran is the party’s biggest supporter . Rouhani’s visit to Iraq declares a clear trade and investment agenda , and is therefore a clear attempt to circumvent US sanctions and limit the Iranian economy from further tightening and suffocation .
Washington granted Baghdad a 90-day exemption from sanctions that were finally renewed to continue paying electricity bills imported from Iran, as well as the $ 12 billion trade between the two countries, expected to rise to $ 20 billion after Rouhani’s visit. Iraq is associated with Iran with a land border extending to 1458 km from the south of Iraq, where the strategic waterway (Shatt al-Arab) of Iraq , to the border triangle north in Kurdistan, Iraq, which connects Turkey, Iran and Iraq.
Rouhani’s historic visit to Iraq seeks to send external counter-messages to the White House , and other internal ones to adversaries, based on the possibility of Iran’s openness to the country that has been invaded by America and continues to deploy military forces , and the possibility of signing important investment agreements in the fields of energy , Industry and health. No less important is the completion of the railway connecting Khorramshhr with Basra and could serve as a starting point for linking Iran to the Syrian port of Latakia across Iraq , which would pull some rug out from under the feet of militants in terms that the economy could achieve a strategic geostrategic goal in which the :Quds Force” and the “popular crowd” and the various militants were unable to achieve .
If Rouhani meets with the three Iraqi presidencies , the republic, the government and the parliament , one of his most important meetings will be with Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the highest Shiite cleric in Iraq and high ranking figure among the Shiites of Iran . the meeting will be held in the Najaf city where the shrine of Imam Ali bin AbuTalib . This is a card of power that Rouhani can employ in the arena of his struggle with powerful religious groups in Iran , benefiting as expected from the fact that Sistani refused to receive former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadnejad in 2013 , for reasons of the Shiite cleric’s keenness to keep the Hawza Al-Ilmiyya a way from Ahmadi Nejad’s policies in general and his views on the return of the absent Imam specially .
The recent days are able to answer the thorny questions surrounding the success or failure of this visit , especially in terms of enhancing Iran’s economic and investment influence in Iraq at the expense of its security and military influence , these are the most important dilemmas .
Iraqi Studies Unit
Rawabet Center for Research and Strategic Studies