Dhaka, Bangladesh
America’s Iran sanctions complicate Iraqi politics

America’s Iran sanctions complicate Iraqi politics

By Talmiz Ahmad

Iraq’s caretaker Prime Minister Haider Abadi has had a difficult fortnight. On Aug. 7, US President Donald Trump reinstated sanctions on Iran following America’s withdrawal from the nuclear agreement. The president’s executive order banned the use of US dollars by Iran and barred imports of Iranian vehicles, graphite, aluminum, steel, coal and software used in industry. These are a precursor to the more stringent sanctions on Iran’s oil sales, shipping and financial transactions that will be enforced from Nov. 5. But the reverberations of this announcement have already been felt in Iraq. Abadi immediately made a convoluted statement: He rejected the idea of sanctions in principle but said that Iraq “will abide by them to protect the interests of our people.” These remarks led to a storm in Iraq. The PM was sharply criticized by the country’s president, the head of the Kurdistan Regional Government, his own Da’awa Party, and a wide range of Shiite political parties and militia. Iranian media was equally harsh, while Tehran also cancelled a proposed visit by Abadi. While some regional Arab commentators welcomed Abadi’s position and criticized the “rabid campaign” against him, others saw him as the “most prominent victim” of US sanctions and said his posture was “muddled and compromising.” On Aug. 13, Abadi tried to regain some lost ground when his spokesman clarified that Iraq would only abide by those sanctions that covered dollar-related transactions with Iran. And this week it has been reported that Baghdad will send a delegation to Washington to ask for exemptions from the sanctions. The announcement of US sanctions came as Iraq’s various political alliances jostled to form a government following the May elections. The manual recount of votes declared on Aug. 9 has shown hardly any change in the results announced earlier. Thus, though the Sairoon coalition led by Muqtada Al-Sadr continues to lead the pack, it has only 54 seats in a 329-member house. It is followed by the pro-Iran Fatah coalition with 48 seats, Abadi’s Nasr group with 42 seats, and former Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki’s State of Law alliance with 25 seats.

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