Iraq, Iran agree to abolish visa fees
Following talks with Iraqi Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani told a joint press conference in Baghdad they have agreed to abolish visa fees between the two countries.
“We agreed on developing and facilitating relations on the popular level. To that end, Iran announces it will not charge visa fees, and later the Iraqi side will announce that it will not charge visa fees,” Rouhani told reporters on Monday evening.
“Under the current circumstances, the Iraqi side prefers for visas to remain between the two countries, but it accepts that no fees be charged for issuing visas on both sides. This is a step to facilitate relations between the peoples,” Rouhani added.
Visa reform will be welcomed by many cross border travelers. Millions of Iranians visit Iraq’s holy Shiite shrines annually to commemorate major ceremonies, while Iraqis cross into Iran for healthcare, education, and business.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani (L) with Iraqi PM Adil Abdul-Mahdi in Baghdad, March 11, 2019. Photo: PMO
Could Iraqi financial transactions with Iran breach US sanctions?
Iraq treads a narrow line on continued trade with Iran while conforming to at least some of the US sanctions on Tehran. Reforming its banking sector to better integrate with Iran could cross the line, however, a former Kurdish undersecretary to Iraq’s Ministry of Finance has warned.
“In the banking sector, Iraq cannot deal with Iran. Even in the past years, we didn’t deal with each other,” Fazil Nabi told Rudaw.
They have had to physically transport money across the border because there is no electronic connection between their respective banks, he said. The aim of increasing trade between the two countries to $20 billion, therefore, might not be achievable.
“There have been times when we have owed money to Iran, and we have paid back in local [Iranian] currency rather than in dollars,” Nabi said.
Although the US could “overlook” Iraq’s ongoing dealings with Iran over electricity and gas, financial services may be another matter.
It is “very important” for the Iranians to establish banking ties with Iraq, “however, we are under the careful watch of America,” Nabi warned.
“The people of Iraq, Iraqi officials have to act with precision with Iran. There could be dealing in some fields, but not some others. Because if, God forbid, Iraq violates the US sanctions on Iran, it is possible that Iraq will face a catastrophe larger than the one it is faring through currently,” he said.
If American banks withdraw their support from Iraq’s Trade Bank (TBI), Iraq might not even be able to pay for imports, he added.
In numbers: Iran-Iraq trade relations
Iran and Iraq share a border stretching 1,458 kilometers, heavy stakes in the region’s oil industry, and intimate political, religious, and historical ties. As a result, a deep and complex relationship in trade, tourism, and investment has taken root, which even US sanctions on Tehran has failed to break.
Ahead of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s visit to Iraq on Monday, Hamid Hosseini, secretary general of Iran-Iraq Joint Chamber of Commerce, offered some figures on the depth of these economic ties.
“We received one and a half million Iraqi tourists and we have already had two million tourists in the seven months of this [Iranian] year and we expect this figure to reach three million by the end of the year,” Hosseini told Iranian state TV
, referring to Iranian year which begins March 21.
“Out of this, 200-300,000 were health tourists who use the medical services in our country.”
Hosseini said 19 million tons-worth of goods were exported to Iraq over the same period.
“The worries of our exporters will be dealt with following the currency agreement and we hope this trend continues next year too,” he said.
According to Hosseini, a 32-member private sector delegation is accompanying Rouhani to Iraq.
“This trip will have very good result for the private sector,” he said.
Iranian private sector engineering and technical projects in Iraq worth $7-8 billion were put on hold after the Islamic State group swept the country in the summer of 2014, Hosseini said. “We hope that on this trip a solution is found for them.”
As many Iraqi professionals fled Iraq during the past 30 years of instability, war, and the destruction of infrastructure, Iran is in a position to invest long term and share its expertise, Hosseini said.
Recent work to resolve banking issues between the two countries have already improved the flow of exports and trade, he added.
Abdul-Mahdi and Rouhani talk trade, defense, oil
Iraqi Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani met for talks on Monday evening to discuss trade and defense issues – and the key matter of oil.
The Iraqi PM hoped the visit would “contribute to developing ties between the two neighboring countries and peoples in all fields, strengthen security, stability, and prosperity for all the peoples of the region,” according to a readout from Abdul-Mahdi’s office.
Their dialogue “included the continuation of cooperation in the field of counterterrorism, bolster efforts of security and stability, and it also discussed cooperation in the fields of economy, trade, and numerous mutual topics, at the forefront oil, agriculture, construction, investment, health, transportation, industrial areas and border crossings,” the readout added.
Hassan Rouhani (L) and Iraqi PM Abdul-Mahdi shake hands during the Iranian president's visit to Baghdad, March 11, 2019. Photo: Prime Minister's Office
President Salih: Iraq lucky to have Iran as a neighbor
Iraqi President Barham Salih received Iranian counterpart Hassan Rouhani at the Presidential Palace in Baghdad.
“I told his Excellency, President Rouhani, that some people say Iraq is situated in a difficult geographical location with many rivalries and problems," Salih told reporters at a press conference.
Iran, Iraq's largest neighbor, has enjoyed an ever-growing influence in Baghdad.
"But Iraq, on the other hand, is lucky to have Islamic neighbors — Iran and Turkey,” Salih added.
The Presidential Guard of Iraq escorts Iranian President Hassan Rouhani (right) and Iraqi President Barham Salih in Baghdad on March 11, 2019. Photo: Iraqi Presidency
Rouhani, who is making his first official visit to Iraq, enjoyed the warm reception.
“I thank the people of Iraq for the warm welcome. While we in Iraq feel like we are in our second homeland because the relations connecting both countries and nations are not new,” Rouhani said.
He touched on historic relations which should be built upon.
“These relations date back to thousands of years from now – they are religious, cultural, historical and regional relations. And we will not abandon these relations. Rather, we should exert all our efforts to improve these relations,” Rouhani added.
Iran President Rouhani arrives in Iraq for 3-day visit
BAGHDAD, Iraq — Iranian President Hassan Rouhani arrived in Baghdad on Monday morning for a three-day official visit accompanied by high-profile economic and political delegations with the aim of growing economic relations between the two neighbors.
Rouhani is expected to hold talks
with arrays of Iraqi officials including President Barham Salih, Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi, religious and tribal figures.
“During very difficult times we were by the side of Iraqi people and today that Iraq is in peace and security, we will be by the Iraqi people’s side,” President Rouhani said at Mehrabad airport on Monday morning before leaving for Baghdad.
The two sides are expected to ink several economic and trade agreements as Iraq emerges from over three years of brutal war against the Islamic State and in desperate need of rebuilding the areas devastated by the war. Iran was one of the first countries that came to the aid of the Iraqi government as jihadists advanced towards the Iraqi capital in June 2014.
“Fortunately the Americans were unsuccessful almost in every effort against Iran over the last year,” Rouhani said, referring to the US government diplomacy since Washington walked away from the nuclear deal last May and re-imposed stringent sanctions targeting Iran’s energy, shipping and banking sector.
Hassan Kazemi Qomi, a former Iran ambassador to Iraq, said in an interview that despite the US pressure on Iraq to cut off ties with Tehran, relations between the two countries are ‘strategic’ and Rouhani’s trip will advance them.
“By taking into account the current situation in Iraq, the Islamic Republic of Iran could introduce a long-term program and a strategic cooperation plan at least for the next 25 years between the two countries," Kazemi Qomi told official Iranian agency IRNA. “However, there has to be a good framework to realise these aims and strategy.”
Another issue that Rouhani is keen on discussing with Iraqi officials is to clean up strategic Shatt al-Arab waterway known as Arvand Rud in Iran to be used by ships to boost trade. Iran is interested in revising the 1975 agreement between the two countries which was scrapped by Saddam Hussein's regime in early 1980s as the two countries fought a bloody war.
Rouhani is accompanied by Oil Minister Bijan Zangeneh and Foreign Minister Javad Zarif. Iranian officials hope to increase
trade with its western neighbour from $12 billion to $20 billion in the coming years.
Iraqi President Barham Salih told reporters
on Sunday that the visit by Rouhani is to deepen relations between the two countries.
Iran is Iraq's largest trading partner followed by Turkey. Relations between the two countries have been strengthened since the US invasion in 2003.
This is a developing story...