Under crippling sanctions, Iranian leaders discuss economic ties with Iraqi president 

Iraq's President Barham Salih is welcomed by Iran's President Hassan Rouhani during his visit in Tehran, (Reuters)
Updated 17 November 2018

Under crippling sanctions, Iranian leaders discuss economic ties with Iraqi president 

  • Both countries could raise annual bilateral trade to $20 billion from the current level of $12 billion
  • Iraqi President Barham Salih arrived Saturday and met with his Iranian counterpart Hassan Rouhani

BAGHDAD: The Iraqi president visited Iran on Saturday as Tehran seeks to shore up ties with its closest economic partners after crushing new sanctions were reimposed by the US. 

Iran is struggling to cope with the impact of two waves of sanctions this year introduced after Donald Trump pulled America out of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal in May.

The second phase of sanctions earlier this month targeted the. energy sector, banks and shipping and placed Iraq in an awkward position. Baghdad relies heavily on imports from Iran  and would face punishment if it breached the restrictions. 

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President Barham Salih met his Iranian counterpart Hassan Rouhani and Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. He spoke of the importance of economic relations between the two countries as Iraq rebuilds after the war against Daesh.

“We are carrying a clear and open message about the importance of social and economic relations with Iran, as we have close ties with the Iranian people,” Salih said in Tehran. “Iraq today is looking to restore its reconstruction and stability, and this requires internal and external political initiatives and requires a stable regional environment.” 

Salih also spoke about a new regional system, in which Iraq would have a pivotal role, “to overcome the current differences and focus on the bilateral interests.”

“Iraq will continue its role as an arena to meet the interests of the peoples of the region, not as a battlefield for the conflicted wills,” he said.

Iraq has been a battlegrount between the US and Iran since the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003. 

Since elections in May, political factions divided roughly into pro and anti Iran camps, have been locked in a bitter struggle for control of a new government.

Many in Iraq feel Iran has too heavy a hand in the country, where it controls powerful Shiite armed factions.

The two sides also discussed “the environmental problems” related to the Shatt Al-Arab waterway that divides the countries in the south, establishing joint industrial areas on the border, and the possibility of a railway link between the two countries.

They also discussed increasing trade between Iraq and Iran, setting up a joint security committees and how to help the visa process for travel between them.

Rouhani said the two countries aimed to boost trade from $12 billion to $20 billion.

“We held talks on trade in electricity, gas, petroleum products,” Rouhani said.

Iran is hoping to maintain exports to Iraq despite the latest sanctions, which took effect on Nov. 5. The country has seen its oil exports plunge and its currency lose more than half its value.

The US has granted Iraq a 45-day waiver to allow it to continue to purchase gas and electricity from Iran for use in its power stations.

Iraq has suffered extensive electricity outages this year, sparking widespread protests in the south. Iraqi officials say they need more time to find an alternative source, Reuters reported.

Salih visits Saudi Arabia on Sunday as part of a regional tour that included Jordan, the UAE and Kuwait. Relations between the Kingdom and Iraq improved in 2017 as the two countries held a series of high-level meetings.

The sanctions have increased pressure on Iraq’s new Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi. He still has not managed to get a number of key ministerial positions approved by parliament as the main rival factions jostle for influence.

Meanwhile, Iranian workers launched further industrial action as the country struggles under the weight of its economic woes.

Workers at Iran’s oldest sugar cane company went on strike on Saturday over unpaid wages, the Iranian ILNA news agency reported.

ILNA published a photo of a rally by workers from the Haft Tapeh company in Shush, south-western Iran, showing women marching with their children - one holding a sign saying: “We are hungry.”


UN warns of severe aid cuts in Yemen without new funds soon

Updated 43 min 6 sec ago

UN warns of severe aid cuts in Yemen without new funds soon

  • Donors have pledged $2.6 billion to meet the urgent needs of more than 20 million Yemenis
  • But UN humanitarian chief Lise Grande says less than half the amount has been received so far
UNITED NATIONS: The UN humanitarian chief in Yemen warned Wednesday that unless significant new funding is received in the coming weeks, food rations for 12 million people in the war-torn country will be reduced and at least 2.5 million malnourished children will be cut off from life-saving services.
Lise Grande said the UN was forced to suspend most vaccination campaigns in May, and without new money a “staggering” 22 life-saving programs in Yemen will close in the next two months.
At a UN pledging conference in February, donors pledged $2.6 billion to meet the urgent needs of more than 20 million Yemenis, but Grande said that to date, less than half the amount has been received.
“When money doesn’t come, people die,” she said in a statement Wednesday.
The conflict in Yemen began with the 2014 takeover of the capital, Sanaa, by Iran-backed Houthi Shiite rebels who control much of the country’s north. A Saudi-led coalition that includes the United Arab Emirates allied with Yemen’s internationally recognized government has been fighting the Houthis since 2015.
The fighting in the Arab world’s poorest country has left thousands of civilians and created the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, leaving millions suffering from food and medical care shortages and pushing the country to the brink of famine.
UN deputy humanitarian chief Ursula Mueller told the Security Council on Tuesday that 12 million Yemenis have been assisted every month, “but much of this is about to stop” because only 34% of the UN’s $4.2 billion appeal for 2019 has been funded.
At this time last year, she said, 65% of the appeal was funded, including generous contributions from Yemen’s neighbors Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
The UN humanitarian office in New York said Wednesday that Saudi Arabia and the UAE each pledged $750 million to its Yemen Humanitarian Response Plan for 2019.
Grande said the UN is grateful to donors who have lived up to their promises, and in half the districts where people were facing famine “conditions have improved to the point where families are no longer at risk of starvation.”
But she said of the 34 major UN humanitarian programs in Yemen, only three are funded for the entire year. Several have been forced to close in recent weeks, Grande said, and many large-scale projects designed to help destitute, hungry families have been unable to start.
Without new funds in the coming weeks, she said, 19 million people will also lose access to health care, including 1 million women who depend on the UN for reproductive health services. In addition, Grande said, clean water programs for 5 million people will have to shut down at the end of October and tens of thousands of displaced families may find themselves homeless.
“Millions of people in Yemen, who through no fault of their own are the victims of this conflict, depend on us to survive,” she said. “All of us are ashamed by the situation. It’s heart-breaking to look a family in the eye and say we have no money to help.”