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US Sanctions Weigh Heavily on Zarif Visit to Baghdad

US Sanctions Weigh Heavily on Zarif Visit to Baghdad

Monday, 14 January, 2019 - 06:30
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif. (Reuters)
Baghdad – Fadel al-Nashmi
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif arrived in Baghdad on Sunday on an official visit to Iraq.

Zarif and the accompanying political and economic delegation were welcomed at the airport by his counterpart Mohammed Ali al-Hakim.

This marks the first visit by the Iranian official to neighboring Iraq since the formation of Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi’s government in October. It also comes five days after a surprise visit to Baghdad by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

The fact that Zarif’s trip came shortly after Pompeo’s indicates that it is related to Washington’s sanctions against Tehran. Zarif was likely in Baghdad to inquire about Iraq’s stance on the sanctions and receive reassurances from it.

Observers noted that Zarif announced his visit a day before arriving in Iraq, while Pompeo made a surprise trip to the country. It was interpreted as a sign that unlike Americans, trips by Iranian officials were open and welcome in Iraq.

Zarif is scheduled to hold talks with President Barham Salih, parliament Speaker Mohammed al-Halbousi and Abdul Mahdi.

A statement from the Iranian embassy in Baghdad said that he is set to visit Erbil on Tuesday to meet with Kurdish officials. He will then head to the cities of Karbala and Najaf. He will conclude his trip on Thursday.

An expert on Iraqi-Iranian ties said that Zarif’s visit stems from an Iranian concern that Iraq “could slip from Tehran’s grasp and forge alliances with regional powers.” This speculation was stoked by Salih’s visit to Turkey where he spoke with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan about forming an alliance that includes Iraq, Turkey and Russia.

The expert, who spoke on condition of anonymity, added that Zarif’s trip could also mean that Tehran was cementing its ties with Baghdad and another regional country given the changes on the international scene.

“Iran wants Iraq to remain its backyard given its fierce rivalry with the US and countries in the region,” said the expert. “It does not want to see Iraq develop its own sovereignty.”

In addition, Tehran may also be seeking to rein in Salih and Abdul Mahdi and ensure that they do not stray away too much from Iran’s circle of influence, he continued.

Political science professor Eyad al-Anbar agreed with the expert on the significance of Zarif’s trip, remarking that Abdul Mahdi’s stances do not always overlap with Iran’s

He told Asharq Al-Awsat that Abdul Mahdi does not want Iraq to become embroiled in the American-Iranian conflict.

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