Iran seeks help from Iraq

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani is seeking to boost economic links with Iraq to defy US Sanctions.

Background

Iraq is a key battleground for rising tensions between Iran and the United States in the Middle East. Iraq which shares a 900 - mile border with Iran relies on it for electricity & military assistance for its battle against Islamic State of militants.  After China, Iraq is Iran's second-biggest trading partner, with $12 billion (€10.7 billion) — a number the countries are seeking to increase to $20 billion — in bilateral trade a year.

Analysis

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani arrived in neighbouring Iraq as the Islamic Republic is under mounting US pressure over its regional influence.

Rouhani's first official visit to Iraq — dubbed by his foreign minister as a "historic" new start in relations — is primarily focused on trade and investment at a time when Tehran is battling against economic isolation following the Trump administration's withdrawal from the 2015 nuclear deal and re-imposition of unilateral sanctions.

The United States has granted Baghdad temporary sanctions waivers on the import of Iranian natural gas and electricity, out of concern shortages could spark more of the kind of unrest that hit Basra and other cities last summer.

 "Iran is well aware of the American pressures to have Baghdad on board in its policy of maximizing pressures on Iran. However, it's also aware that given the level of interdependencies between the two sides, Iraq is not yet ready to fully comply with the US demands even if it decides to do so," said Hamidreza Azizi, an assistant professor of regional studies at Shahid Beheshti University in Tehran

"Iran is the most influential external power in Iraq," said Emma Sky, who served as political adviser to the US military. "The Shiite militias are a critical part of Iranian influence in Iraq. They also serve to undermine the legitimacy of the Iraqi state particularly through their use of intimidation for political and economic gain.

The Iranian foreign minister thanked Iraq for having "refused the unjust and illegal sanctions imposed on the Iranian people" in reference to the US measures.

Assessment

Our assessment is that Iraq is likely to continue buying electricity from Iran until proper infrastructure is built. We feel that the American demand for Iraq to be ‘energy independent’ is not likely to materialize. We believe that the presence of Iran in the political, economic, and military sectors in Iraq is a threat to US interests in the region.