BAGHDAD: Iraqi officials denied on Sunday that Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi had canceled a trip to Iran as Tehran’s allies in Iraq ramped up pressure on him over US sanctions.
Al-Abadi has faced a fierce campaign of criticism since last week over his decision to stick to new economic sanctions imposed on Iran by Washington.
Defying the sanctions would put Iraqi banks on a US blacklist and stop the sale of Iraqi oil, while making Baghdad unable to pay its external and domestic financial obligations, including salaries, Iraqi officials said.
Al-Abadi last week issued instructions to stop the financial transactions of state-owned banks with Iran and halt the import of any materials from Iran that required payment in US dollars, financial officials told Arab News.
But the prime minister’s decision to abide by the US sanctions may cost him his political future and end his ambition to win a second term as prime minister.
The campaign of criticism led by Iran-backed forces in Iraq started when Al-Abadi said on Tuesday that his government had to abide by US sanctions “to protect the interests of the Iraqi people.”
But it escalated Sunday after an Iraqi government official told AFP that Iran had refused to welcome Al-Abadi on a visit to discuss the common interests of the two countries.
The unnamed official said Al-Abadi was planning to visit Iran on Tuesday, but Iranian officials expressed they were uncomfortable about the visit, so it was canceled.
Both Al-Abadi’s office and the Iranian foreign ministry denied that there was even a visit planned.
“We did not announce a visit to Iran and Turkey, so how can we announce its cancellation?” one of Al-Abadi’s senior staff told Arab News.
“Until this moment, we have not been
informed (by Al-Abadi) that there is a visit scheduled for the coming days.”
All Iraqi political forces and Iranian-backed armed factions have expressed their rejection of Al-Abadi’s decision to abide by the sanctions in recent days.
The most aggressive statement came from Sayed Mujtaba Al-Hosseini, a representative of the Supreme Leader of Iran, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, in the holy Iraqi city of Najaf.
The critcism, which was circulated on Sunday, could mean Al-Abadi’s loss of any possible Iranian support for his second term.
Husseini described Al-Abadi’s position as “irresponsible” and incompatible with Iran fulfilling its positions in its defense of Iraq against Daesh.
“Before everything, we are sorry for the prime minister’s position, which shows his weakness and expresses his psychological defeat toward America,” he said.
Iraqi political forces that triumphed in May’s parliamentary election have been waiting for ratified results, so they can conclude their negotiations to build the biggest coalition, which could then form the next government.
Iraq is a battlefield for international powers in the region, particularly America and Iran since the 2003 US-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein.
No stable government could be formed without the approval of the two nations. Al-Abadi openly enjoys the support of the US.
“Everyone knows that Abadi needs the support of both Iran and US to win a second term. One of them is not enough,” Abdulwahid Tuama, an Iraqi analyst told Arab News.
“Abadi did not manage the crisis in a clever way this time, and all signs indicate that he lost any chance to get the Iranian support.”