Iranian President Hassan Rouhani condemned U.S. military intervention in the Middle East on Monday as he began a first official visit to Iraq, meant to bolster Tehran’s influence and expand trade ties to help offset renewed U.S. sanctions.
His visit also signaled to Washington and Gulf Arab allies that, in the face of U.S. sanctions reimposed after the U.S. pullout from world powers’ nuclear deal with Iran, Tehran still plays a dominant role in Iraqi politics, ONA reports quoting Reuters.
Prior to his departure, Rouhani said Shi’ite Muslim Iran was determined to strengthen ties with its Shi’ite-led Arab neighbor, Iranian state television reported on Monday.
Those ties “cannot be compared to Iraq’s relations with an occupying country like America, which is hated in the region,” the semi-official Mehr news agency quoted Rouhani as saying before he flew to Baghdad. “One cannot forget the bombs that Americans dropped on Iraq, Syria and other regional countries.”
During Rouhani’s three-day visit a series of agreements will be signed in energy, transport, agriculture, industry and health, the Iranian state news agency IRNA said.
“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 journalists after meeting Iraqi President Barham Salih.
“Iraq is an important state in the region and it can play a bigger role in providing security,” he said without elaborating.
A senior Iranian official accompanying Rouhani told Reuters that Iraq was “another channel for Iran to bypass America’s unjust sanctions ... this trip will provide opportunities for Iran’s economy”.
Iraq relies on Iranian gas imports to feed its power grid and has asked for extensions to a U.S. waiver to continue importing Iranian gas since U.S. President Donald Trump restored sanctions on Iran’s vital energy sector in November.