Lebanon agrees with Iraq to swap medical expertise for oil

Lebanon would receive 500,000 tonnes of Iraqi oil annually, or a sixth of its needs, while its experts and specialised teams will help manage medical facilities in Iraq.
Saturday 03/04/2021
A worker raises an Iraqi national flag as a tanker truck filled with fuel offered by Iraq empties its content at the oil refinery of Zahrani, near the southerm Lebanese city of Sidon on August 20, 2020. (AFP)
A worker raises an Iraqi national flag as a tanker truck filled with fuel offered by Iraq empties its content at the oil refinery of Zahrani, near the southerm Lebanese city of Sidon on August 20, 2020. (AFP)

BEIRUT – Officials from Beirut and Baghdad signed a preliminary agreement Friday that would see Lebanon trade its medical expertise for Iraqi fuel supplies, Lebanese state media reported.

Lebanon’s state-run electricity company faces dire cash shortages as the country grapples with its worst economic crisis since the 1975-1990 civil war.

Oil-rich Iraq, which has seen Covid-19 cases soar in recent weeks, suffers from a chronic lack of drugs and medical care, and decades of war and poor investment have left its hospitals in bad shape.

Caretaker Health Minister Hamad Hassan and his Iraqi counterpart Hassan al-Tamimi signed “a framework agreement… that includes (the supply of) oil in exchange for medical and hospital services,” Lebanon’s National News Agency (NNA) said.

Under the accord, inked in Beirut, Lebanon would receive 500,000 tonnes of Iraqi oil annually, or a sixth of its needs, caretaker Lebanese Energy Minister Raymond Ghajar said.

Hassan said the agreement included cooperation in training and hospital administration, with Lebanese experts and specialised teams to be involved in managing new facilities in Iraq.

Lebanese officials made no secret of their desire to strengthen cooperation with Iraq in various fields. Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri described the most recent agreement as a lifeline for Lebanon. This comes as the Lebanese are losing hope in donor pledges due to the government formation crisis and the veto imposed by several countries on the disbursement of aid in light of the domination of Iran-backed Hezbollah.

During his meeting in Beirut with the Iraqi Minister of Health and Environment Hassan al-Tamimi, Berri stressed the need to enhance cooperation with Iraq, and considered that this would help Lebanon resolve its crises.

“In light of the dangers threatening Lebanon, this cooperation can significantly help in resolving the country’s crises,” he said.

He added that Lebanon risks collapse if the situation remains as it is without a swift formation of a new government.

Lebanon’s President Michel Aoun conveyed to Tamimi his country’s “appreciation for the efforts of the Iraqi government and the latest agreement to provide Lebanon with oil in exchange for medical services.”

The bet on Iraq comes after the Lebanese lost hope for a return of Gulf assistance, in the form of aid, loans, investments and tourism. Over recent years, the situation has grown more complicated as a result of the political crisis. Iran, in particular, contributed to Lebanon’s collapse, turning the country into a playground for regional influence with the help of its most powerful proxy in the region, the Lebanese Shia group Hezbollah.

Lebanon was once dubbed “the hospital of the Arab world,” with advanced private facilities and doctors trained in Europe and the United States.

But hundreds of medics are now fleeing the country’s political and economic crises and even basic medication has gone out of stock.

Power cuts have been common in the country for decades, but Ghajar warned in March that Lebanon would plunge into “total darkness” by the end of the month if no money was secured to buy fuel for power stations.

Lebanon’s parliament this week approved $200 million in emergency funding to keep the lights on.