Iranian President Rouhani Visits Iraq for the First Time
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani landed in Iraq on March 11 in his first visit to the country. He hopes to expand Iraqi-Iranian ties and to circumvent U.S. sanctions that have damaged the Iranian economy, according to Al-Monitor. During his three-day trip to Iraq, President Rouhani met with Iraqi President Barham Salih and Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi.
Before leaving to Iraq, President Rouhani stated that “[Iran’s ties with Iraq] cannot be compared to Iraq’s relations with an occupying country like America, which is hated in the region,” as reported by Al-Monitor. However, Iran’s ties with Iraq have been conflicted over the past forty years. An article in the Times of Israel discusses how from 1980 to 1988, the two states fought a brutal war that ended in a stalemate. The newspaper further explains that during the U.S. occupation of Iraq, Iran operated and supported a number of Shi’a militias within Iraq. These same Shi’a militias have been invaluable in combating ISIS forces over the past five years. Economic ties between Iran and Iraq have since markedly improved in the aftermath of the Iran-Iraq War.
Those economic ties were the main focus of Rouhani’s visit. Al Jazeera reported that both countries agreed to increase their annual trade to $20 billion from its current level of $12 billion, with a large portion coming from increased oil and natural gas exports from Iran to Iraq. President Rouhani and his Iraqi counterparts also signed agreements on topics such as health, agriculture, industry, energy, and transport, along with promises to create a railway connecting the two countries and a jointly owned bank, according to Al-Monitor.
A further motivating factor for the deepening of economic ties between Iraq and Iran may be the U.S. sanctions placed on the Iranian government under the Trump administration. According to the Washington Post, when the United States withdrew from the 2015 nuclear accord in 2018, President Trump and his administration gradually began the process of reinstating crippling sanctions against critical Iranian economic sectors and key political and business figures. As a result of this stranglehold, Iranian officials have increasingly looked to their neighbor to the west to receive the money and resources that it needs.
President Trump’s combative rhetoric regarding Iran has endeared the country to some Iraqi politicians, some of whom have called for their government to ban the 5,200 U.S. troops within its borders. The Trump administration has granted waivers to Iraqi companies to allow them to continue doing business with Iranian companies, in particular energy and natural gas companies. Meanwhile, the United States has been encouraging the Iraqis to either become energy independent or to satisfy its energy needs through the United States, a level of meddling in Iraqi affairs that Iraqi politicians have not taken to lightly, according to Arab News.