Iran, Iraq vow to boost ties despite US pressure

Tehran, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and Iraq’s Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi, here on Saturday, pledged to strengthen bilateral economic and political relations despite pressure from the US on Baghdad to break ties with Tehran.

Abdul-Mahdi began a two-day official visit to neighbouring Iran on Saturday, the first since he took office last October.

During a joint press conference, Rouhani said, “our plans for the future is of achieving a $20 billion trade between the two countries, which we hope will be achieved in the coming months,” reported Efe news.

“One of the most important topics that we discussed was accelerating the implementation of all agreements signed during my visit to Iraq (in Mid-March),” the Iranian President said.

He said the agreements included free visas for nationals of both countries, which has been implemented, as well as the Shalamcheh-Basra railway link, which would start in July.

They also addressed the issues of Iran’s electricity exports to Iraq as well as to be implemented oil and gas links. Iranian exports to Iraq have reached $13 billion. Of this, more than $7 billion are non-oil products. Iraq largely depends for gas, electricity and food on its Persian neighbour.

The US wants to cut these exports after having pulled out of the 2015 multilateral Iranian nuclear deal last year and re-imposition of sanctions on Iran. The US sanctions affect many sectors, including energy and banking.

Washington has called on allies to follow suit and granted Iraq a 90-day moratorium in March to adapt and reduce its dependence on Iranian energy.

But the Iraqi Prime Minister on Saturday reinforced his commitment to the agreements penned with Iran last month, adding he would “expand” relations with the neighbouring country. The close cooperation between the two “will be beneficial for both countries, the region and the world,” he added

“We have said before, and we reiterate today, we are with the Iranian government and the nation in happiness and sadness,” Abdul-Mahdi said, a direct reference to the US pressure on Baghdad.

“The Islamic Republic of Iran has helped us a lot in combating terrorism,” Iraq’s PM said and added, “We owe our current position and security to Iran’s support.”

Relations between Iraq and Iran, which fought 8-year war starting 1980, have become strategic since the ouster of Sunni dictator Saddam Hussein in 2003 and the rise of Shiite forces to power in Baghdad.