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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 14 November 2018

Iraq wants exemption from US sanctions on Iran

An Iraqi delegation is set to travel to Washington to discuss their exemption

Iraq Prime Minister Haider Al Abadi. AP
Iraq Prime Minister Haider Al Abadi. AP

An Iraqi delegation is set to travel to the US to ask for an exemption from adhering to Washington's sanctions on Iran.

"We are not with economic sanctions against any country and that is our strategic position," Prime Minister Haider Al Abadi said late on Tuesday, without specifying when the trip would take place.

Iraq's two strongest allies are the US and Iran - themselves arch-enemies - leaving Baghdad in a possible diplomatic conundrum.

Iran is Iraq’s second-largest trading partner after Turkey, supplying everything from gas to electricity, fruits and vegetables. The countries also share an approximate 1,500-kilometre border.

The premier had earlier said his country would reluctantly comply with the embargo, but faced with objections from many Iran-allied Iraqi politicians. He later said that only the restrictions on dealings in US dollars would be observed.

Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s representative in Baghdad also lashed out at Mr Al Abadi.

“It’s a disloyal attitude towards the honest position of Iran and the blood of the martyrs this country has spilt to defend the land of Iraq” against extremists, said Moujtaba Al Hussein.

But Mr Al Abadi was seemingly unwavering in his decision, until now.

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Since taking office in 2014, the prime minister has sought to project an image of independence from Iran while maintaining friendly relations with the neighbouring country.

US President Donald Trump withdrew the United States in May from world powers' 2015 nuclear deal with Iran, calling it flawed, and reimposed trade sanctions on Tehran.

They impose penalties for transactions with Iran in US currency, gold, precious metals, graphite, coal and semi-finished metals, as well as large sales of Iranian rials, issuing Iranian debt and car sanctions. US imports of food and carpets from Iran are also restricted.

The Trump administration has warned of consequences for countries that do not respect the sanctions.

The anti-Iran sanctions are set to be followed by a second wave on November 5, targeting Tehran's oil and gas sector.

Resentment over US sanctions lingers in Iraq, where the economy was crippled by 12 years of restrictions that began in 1990 after Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait.