Rouhani begins first Iraq visit

BAGHDAD: Iranian President Hassan Rowhani arrived on Monday in the Iraqi capital Baghdad for his first visit to the neighbouring country since he took office in 2013. The three-day visit is aimed at bolstering ties between Iran and Iraq.
It is Rouhani’s first visit to Baghdad. Prior to his departure he said Iran was determined to strengthen brotherly ties with its neighbour, Iranian state television reported on Monday.
The visit will send a strong message to the United States and its allies that, in the face of US 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.
A senior Iranian official accompanying Rouhani told Reuters that Iraq was “another channel for Iran to bypass America’s sanctions…. This trip will provide opportunities for Iran’s economy.
Trade between Iran and Iraq now stands at around $12 billion a year — tilted toward Iran with gas and energy exports — and Rouhani has said he would like to see it rise to $20 billion.
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 neighbours. — Reuters