Questions over Baghdad’s ability to abide by renewed US sanctions against Iran

Abadi criticised Iraqi politicians who wanted Baghdad to defy the US sanctions against Iran.
Sunday 12/08/2018
An Iraqi man looks at an Iranian-made washing machine at a store in Baghdad. (AFP)
Bargain hunting. An Iraqi man looks at an Iranian-made washing machine at a store in Baghdad. (AFP)

LONDON - Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said he would comply with renewed US sanctions on Iran, despite having reservations. However, it is unknown whether Baghdad can abide by such measures when many of Iraq’s top politicians and militiamen are loyal to Tehran.

Abadi said that, while he opposed sanctions and viewed them as unjust in general, he would adhere to the US move against Iran because it would not be in Iraq’s interest to challenge Washington in the matter.

“In principle, we are totally against sanctions. Iraq has paid the biggest price for sanctions that it unjustly endured for 13 years. The sanctions were meant to weaken the former regime (of Saddam Hussein) but they resulted in weakening our people and tearing the fabric of our society,” Abadi said.

“We are not happy (with the sanctions against Iran) but we will abide by them… to protect our people.”

“As a government, we are primarily responsible for our people. Yes, we do not attack or oppress others, especially neighbouring states, but we have a moral and legal responsibility towards our people,” he said.

'The interest of Iraqis' 

Abadi criticised Iraqi politicians who wanted Baghdad to defy the US sanctions against Iran.

“Some want the interest of others to be above the interest of our people… is it permissible for me as the prime minister of Iraq to expose the interest of Iraqis to harm?” Abadi asked.

Iraq reportedly bought approximately $6.6 billion worth of goods from Iran in 2017. Many of those products are cheaper and easier to import from Iran than from elsewhere.

Iraq would stand to lose revenue from Iranians visiting Shia holy sites in Karbala and Najaf, among others.

“The 2 [million] or 3 million Iranian pilgrims who come each year represent a major economic activity that Iraq could now be deprived of,” Muzhar Mohammed Salah, an economic adviser to Abadi, told Agence France-Presse.

Black market

Observers said, however, that trade will continue in the black market because smugglers easily cross many points along the 1,000km border between the two countries.

It also should be noted that Abadi may not be prime minister once a new coalition government is formed.

A recount of votes in May’s national elections, after allegations of fraud, showed that influential Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr retained his lead in the number of parliamentary seats. Abadi was third in the race, following a political alliance representing pro-Iran militias. Negotiations over who will lead the country continue among the major parties.

Many senior Iraqi politicians have openly called for breaking the US sanctions against Iran.

“US sanctions against neighbouring Iran are a blatant violation of international law,” Iraqi Vice-President Nuri al-Maliki said in a statement. “We call on the Iraqi government not to be party to these sanctions.”

Pro-Iran militias 

Iraq’s Dawa Party, which both Abadi and Maliki are members of, denounced the sanctions.

“The party calls on all free governments in the world, especially the Islamic ones, to reject these unjust sanctions which contradict the most basic principles of human rights that prohibits the starvation of people,” Dawa said in a statement.  The party also “called on all freedom-loving peoples… to resist (the sanctions).”

Hard-line pro-Iran Shia groups joined in the chorus of condemnation and threatened to break the sanctions against Tehran.

“The statement of the Iraqi prime minister does not show loyalty to the honourable stance of the Islamic Republic of Iran, especially the blood of their martyred (military) advisers,” read a statement by Kata’ib Sayyid al-Shuhada militia.

“The interest of Iraq lies in not falling into America’s arms and following their wishes which are hostile to peoples,” the statement added.

The As’aib Ahl al-Haq militia said in a statement the US sanctions against Iran were “a violation of humanitarian principles and customs” and expressed disappointment in Abadi’s stance on the issue.

'Iran is under pressure'

The calls have not stopped with hardliners. Ammar al-Hakim, leader of the Iraqi National Wisdom Movement, which considers itself a moderate party, urged aiding Iran in the face of US pressure.

“The Islamic Republic of Iran is under pressure and sanctions, which have targeted its economic and political establishment,” Hakim was quoted as saying. “I call on everyone to stand by the Islamic Republic of Iran during this crisis and help this country.”

Iraqi President Fuad Masum acknowledged that it would be difficult for Baghdad to adhere to US sanctions against Iran.

“The circumstances of Iraq and the nature of its relationship, in addition to the many mutual interests, will make it difficult for Iraq to comply with such a decision,” Masum told Alhurra TV.

'The sanctions are not clear for us' in Kurdistan

“My view regarding current conflicts is that we should not support one side against another, because subjecting Iran to a huge pressure might prompt an Iranian reaction which affects the situation in Iraq,” said the Iraqi president, who is a Kurd.

Kurdistan Regional Government Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani said he would deal with the US sanctions on Iran within the framework of the central government in Baghdad.

“Until now, the sanctions are not clear for us in the Kurdistan region. I believe they are not clear to them yet either but, certainly, the Kurdistan region’s steps will be within the policies and position of Iraq,” Barzani told Kurdistan 24.

“We have asked the United States and Baghdad to give us more clarifications about that,” said Barzani.