Iraqi PM in Iran to hold talks on energy, Saudi ties

Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi (R) walks beside Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi at the presidential palace in Tehran, September 12, 2021. (PM office photo)

SULAIMANI (ESTA) — Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi arrived in Tehran on Sunday for talks with senior Iranian officials on energy and Saudi ties with Iran.

Kadhimi accompanied by a high-level government delegation is expected to hold talks with newly elected Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi during his visit.

“The visit aims to strengthen bilateral relations, open up prospects for cooperation in varies fields, and focus on the depth of the relationship between the two friendly countries,” Kadhimi said in a statement ahead of his visit.

AFP cited a government source as saying on Friday that Kadhimi would raise “issues of security, energy, and relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran” with Raisi.

Oil-rich Iraq has been caught for years in a delicate balancing act between its two main allies, the United States and neighboring Iran.

The Islamic republic exerts major clout in Iraq through allied armed groups within the Hashid al-Shaabi, a powerful state-sponsored paramilitary network.

Iraq is highly dependent on Iranian imports, and the Islamic republic supplies a third of Iraq’s gas and electricity needs. However, Baghdad currently owes Tehran six billion dollars for energy supplied.

Baghdad has also been brokering talks since April between U.S. ally Riyadh and Tehran on mending ties severed in 2016.

Last month, Iraq hosted a summit of regional leaders, attended by the foreign ministers of Iran and Saudi Arabia as well as French president Emmanuel Macron.

Sunday’s meeting is also expected to address the issue of visas for Iranian pilgrims travelling to Shia holy sites in Iraq.

Iraqi authorities late on Thursday announced new quotas for foreign pilgrims for the Arbaeen pilgrimage in the Shia shrine city of Karbala later this month.

Kadhimi’s office said that 60,000 Iranian pilgrims would be allowed to attend, up from 30,000 previously announced.

The number of visas issued to foreign pilgrims permitted has dropped sharply in the past two years due to the pandemic.

Kadhimi, who came to power in May last year after months of unprecedented mass protests against a ruling class seen as corrupt, inept and subordinate to Tehran, had called for early parliamentary elections in response to demands by pro-democracy activists.

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