Iraq aims to ease US-Iran tensions

Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi said Baghdad will send teams to Tehran and Washington to calm tensions. (File/AFP)
Updated 23 May 2019
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Iraq aims to ease US-Iran tensions

  • Iraqi delegations to visit both countries
  • “US and Iranian officials have assured us that they do not want to go to war,” says PM

BAGHDAD: Iraq will send delegations to Tehran and Washington over the next few days in an attempt to ease tensions in the region, Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi said on Tuesday.

“Iraq has conducted high-level contacts (between the US and Iran), and its vision is very close to the European vision to resolve the crisis in the region,” Abdul Mahdi said.

“US and Iranian officials have assured us that they do not want to go to war. So we will send delegations to Washington and Tehran.”

Tensions started to rise between the two countries after the US withdrew from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, otherwise known as the Iran nuclear deal, in May 2018.

Since then, the US has imposed economic sanctions on Iran. US President Donald Trump warned on Monday that Iran would be met with “great force” if it attacked American interests in the Middle East.

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Iraq has been a battleground for the US and Iran since 2003. Both countries enjoy significant influence in the region.

Iraqi leaders believe that their country could become the first confrontation zone if war breaks out between the two nations.

“Iraq is in the stage of transferring messages between Washington and Tehran as we try to defuse the crisis between the two sides,” Abdul Mahdi said.

“It is our responsibility to defend Iraq and its people, and secure them from the threat of war.”

During a visit to Baghdad earlier this month, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told Abdul Mahdi that targeting any US interests in Iraq will be dealt with militarily.

A Katyusha rocket was fired on Sunday into Baghdad’s Green Zone, which houses government offices and embassies, including the US Embassy.

The rocket fire came days after the US evacuated staff from Iraq, citing threats from Iran. It was not clear who was behind the attack, which caused no casualties.

The attack “embarrassed” the Iraqi government, which has pledged to secure diplomatic missions and protect US interests, senior Iraqi officials told Arab News.

The Iraqi president, prime minister and speaker of Parliament, as well as heads of political blocs and commanders of armed factions linked to Iran, have held meetings over the past few days.

“We’re working together to invest our relations with the two parties (the US and Iran) in order to ease the tension and find peaceful solutions,” Ahmad Al-Assadi, head of an Iraqi parliamentary bloc, told Arab News.

“The outbreak of war between America and Iran will cause great damage to the entire region. Iraq will be the biggest loser because it’s in the heart of the storm.”

During the meetings, political leaders and representatives of armed factions linked to Iran agreed on a 12-point document that aims “to keep Iraq away from the ongoing struggle between the US and Iran by all possible means.” Al-Assadi said the Iraqi Parliament will vote on the approved document.

Dozens of paramilitary troops associated with Iran operate in Iraq, and present the biggest challenge for the Iraqi government and political leaders.

“We agreed that no armed faction is allowed to ignite the war inside Iraq for any reason, and whoever violates this deal will be considered our enemy,” one of the leaders linked to Iran, who participated in the meetings, told Arab News.

“We don’t want to be blamed for this war, but the situation may change if the US insists on starting this war inside Iraq.”


Iran’s Hassan Rouhani may skip UN meet over US visa delay

Updated 40 min 12 sec ago

Iran’s Hassan Rouhani may skip UN meet over US visa delay

TEHRAN: Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani and his delegation could be forced into skipping next week’s UN General Assembly because the United States has yet to issue them visas, state media said Wednesday.
Rouhani and his delegation had been scheduled to travel to New York for the annual UN gathering on Monday, but that was now looking unlikely given the lack of visas, state news agency IRNA said.
“If the visas aren’t issued in a few hours, this trip will probably be canceled,” IRNA reported.
The delegation includes Iran’s top diplomat Mohammad Javad Zarif, who the United States imposed sanctions against on July 31.
The foreign minister had been due to travel to New York on Friday morning, according to IRNA.
The absence of Rouhani would ruin France’s bid to arrange a meeting between him and US President Donald Trump as part of European efforts to de-escalate tensions between the arch-foes.
“Iran’s absence will show that in contrast with its commitments to the United Nations and international organizations within the framework of agreements, diplomacy has no value for the United States,” IRNA said.
“Although the Islamic Republic of Iran has not left the scene and it continues its active diplomacy, the US government must answer for its behavior,” it added.
The UN General Assembly debate is due to begin on Tuesday.
As the host government, the United States generally is obliged to issue visas to diplomats who serve at UN headquarters.
But Iran and the United States have been at loggerheads since May last year when Trump abandoned a 2015 nuclear deal and began reimposing sanctions in its campaign of “maximum pressure.”
Iran responded by scaling back its commitments under the landmark accord, which gave it the promise of sanctions relief in return for limiting the scope of its nuclear program.