BAGHDAD (Reuters) – Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has arrived in Baghdad, Iraq’s government said on Monday, on an official visit aimed at shoring up Tehran’s influence and expanding trade ties.
It is Rouhani’s first visit to Baghdad. Prior to his departure he said Shi’ite Iran was determined to strengthen brotherly ties with its neighbor, Iranian state television reported on Monday.
The visit will send a strong message to the United States and its regional allies that, in the face of U.S. sanctions, Iran still plays a dominant role in Iraqi politics.
During the three-day visit a series of agreements will be signed in energy, transport, agriculture, industry and health, Iran’s state news agency IRNA said.
“We are very much interested to expand our ties … particularly our transport cooperation,” Rouhani said at Tehran’s Mehrabad airport.
He will visit a Shi’ite Muslim shrine in Baghdad’s Khadhimiya district prior to a welcome ceremony, the offices of Iraq’s president and prime minister said.
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
The sharp downturn in Iran’s economy since US President Donald Trump’s decision last May to pull out of a 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and six major powers has pushed the country’s leaders to try to expand trade ties with neighbors.
The agreement lifted sanctions that had been imposed by the United States, European Union and United Nations in return for Iran curbing aspects of its nuclear programme.
The Trump administration said the accord was too generous and failed to rein in Iran’s ballistic missile capabilities and its involvement in regional conflicts in Syria and Yemen.
Other signatories to the deal have been trying to salvage the pact, but US sanctions have largely scared off European companies from doing business with Iran.
The Europeans have promised to help firms do business with Iran as long as it abides by the deal. Iran has itself threatened to pull out of the 2015 deal unless EU powers demonstrably protect its economic benefits.
Reporting by Ahmed Rasheed; Writing by Parisa Hafezi and Ahmed Aboulenein; Editing by John Stonestreet