Iran's Rouhani visits Iraq to 'bypass U.S. sanctions'
Updated 11:07, 12-Mar-2019
CGTN
01:07

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani arrived in Baghdad on Monday, kicking off a three-day visit to Iraq. The visit took place as Iran tries to expand ties with its Shi'ite-led Arab neighbor after the United States pulled out of a 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and six major powers and reimposed sanctions on Tehran.

"We have the right conditions for cooperation in all areas, including trade and investment... energy, electricity and gas, banking ties and cooperation on roads and railways," Rouhani told reporters after meeting Iraqi President Barham Salih.

During Rouhani's visit, the two sides will sign a series of agreements in energy, transport, agriculture, industry and health, the Iranian state news agency IRNA said.

"Iraq is an important state in the region and it can play a bigger role in providing security," the Iranian president noted.

Iraqi President Barham Salih (L) and his Iranian counterpart Hassan Rouhani review the honor guard at the presidential palace in Baghdad, Iraq, March 11, 2019. /VCG Photo

Iraqi President Barham Salih (L) and his Iranian counterpart Hassan Rouhani review the honor guard at the presidential palace in Baghdad, Iraq, March 11, 2019. /VCG Photo

A senior Iranian official accompanying Rouhani told Reuters that Iraq was "another channel for Iran to bypass America's unjust sanctions," adding that the trip will provide opportunities for Iran's economy.

U.S. President Donald Trump announced last May a withdrawal from the landmark nuclear deal, claiming that it was too generous and failed to rein in Iran's ballistic missile program and its involvement in regional conflicts such as Syria and Yemen. The U.S. then reimposed sanctions on Iran's oil industry and banking and transport sectors, leading to a slump in the Iranian economy.

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Despite a bloody eight year war between Iran and Iraq in the 1980s, bilateral ties normalized after the fall of former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein in 2003. Since Rouhani's election in 2013, Iraq has relied on Iranian paramilitary support to fight ISIL.

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Currently, Iran is the second largest source of imported goods in Iraq, which relies on Iranian gas to feed its power grid and has asked for extensions to a U.S. waiver to continue importing Iranian gas despite the restored sanctions. Iran is also planning to establish a center in Baghdad for marketing its products in Iraq, Tehran Times daily reported Saturday.

The two countries are looking to raise their annual bilateral trade from 12 billion U.S. dollars to 20 billion U.S. dollars.

Rouhani condemns U.S. intervention in Middle East

Prior to his departure from Iran, Rouhani said his country is determined to strengthen its brotherly ties with Iraq, Iran's state television reported.

"We are very much interested to expand our ties with Iraq, particularly our transport cooperation," he said at Tehran's Mehrabad airport. "We have important projects that will be discussed during this visit." 

An Iraqi man unloads electrical appliances imported from Iran in Baghdad, Iraq, February 23, 2019. /VCG Photo

An Iraqi man unloads electrical appliances imported from Iran in Baghdad, Iraq, February 23, 2019. /VCG Photo

The Iranian leader also condemned U.S. military intervention in the Middle East. Ties between Tehran and Baghdad "cannot be compared to Iraq's relations with an occupying country like America, which is hated in the region," he said, according to Iran's semi-official Mehr news agency.

"One cannot forget the bombs that Americans dropped on Iraq, Syria and other regional countries," he added.

The U.S. has about 5,200 troops in Iraq as trainers and advisers to Iraqi security forces. Trump has said wants some American troops to remain in Iraq to "keep an eye on Iran," despite growing calls in Iraq for the withdrawal of all U.S. troops.

(Cover: Iraqi President Barham Salih (R) shakes hands with his Iranian counterpart Hassan Rouhani upon his arrival at the presidential palace in Baghdad, Iraq, March 11, 2019. /VCG Photo)