President Hassan Rouhani says the visit to Iran by Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi — the latter’s first foreign trip in the capacity — will serve as a “milestone” in bilateral ties between the two neighbors.
“I am positive that this trip functions as a milestone in [the process of] development of the two friendly and brotherly countries’ relations,” Rouhani said at a joint press conference with Kadhimi in Tehran on Tuesday after a face-to-face meeting with the premier.
The Iraqi prime minister arrived in the Iranian capital earlier in the day at the head of a high-ranking politico-economic delegation at Rouhani’s invitation. Upon arrival, the Iraqi delegation was welcomed by Iran’s Energy Minister Reza Ardakanian before an official ceremony at the Saadabad complex in Tehran.
Kadhimi, who assumed his country’s premiership in May, had planned to visit Saudi Arabia on his first official trip, but he postponed the visit on account of Saudi King Salman’s hospitalization for “some medical tests.”
$20-billion trade in focus
After welcoming the Iraqi delegation and expressing gratitude towards Kadhimi for accepting his invitation, Rouhani said his administration was determined to take the volume of Iran and Iraq’s annual bilateral trade to $20 million.
The president acknowledged that Kadhimi took over Iraq’s premiership “in very sensitive circumstances.” Nevertheless, his incumbency so far has witnessed “a favorable movement [forward]” in the development of the countries’ bilateral trade, Rouhani added.
The chief executive also said the Islamic Republic was capable of providing Iraq with whatever it needed in terms of sanitary and medical requirements in the face of the new coronavirus outbreak.
Rouhani also honored the memory of “the two heroes of anti-terrorism fight,” Lieutenant General Qassem Soleimani and Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, the second-in-command of Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Units (PMU) counter-terrorism force.
General Soleimani, former commander of the Quds Force of Iran’s Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC), was assassinated in a US airstrike at Baghdad airport on January 3, along with Abu Muhandis and a number of their companions. The strike came while General Soleimani was on an official visit to the Iraqi capital.
Both commanders were extremely popular because of the key role they played in eliminating the US-sponsored Daesh terrorist group in the region, particularly in Iraq and Syria.
Earlier in July, Agnes Callamard, United Nations special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, underlined the “unlawful” nature of the operation because the US had failed to provide evidence of an ongoing or imminent attack against its interests to justify the strike.
The visit by al-Kadhimi, who has defined Iraq’s sovereignty as his redline, came after the Arab country’s Supreme Judicial Council said Baghdad regarded the US assassination of the duo on its soil as a criminal act. The Council also said Baghdad and Tehran would jointly sue the United States over the atrocity.
Rouhani said General Soleimani and Abu Muhandis were among those “who strove towards Iraq’s security over the past years,” adding that his talks with Kadhimi also featured “the role that Iraq can play as a powerful Arab country in the region” among other issues that concern the regional affairs and stability.
Al-Kadhimi: Defending Iran our ‘rubric’
The Iraqi premier, for his part, thanked Rouhani for inviting him to travel to Iran “in order to fortify the countries’ historical relations.” He said the countries’ ties dated back hundreds of years, and were not simply based on continuity.
“Iraq will be treating defending Iran as a rubric [defining its performance],” Kadhimi noted.
He said Iraq’s foreign relations were “balanced” and free from all favoritism. That is why Iraq would never let its soil serve as a launch pad for any threat against “our friendly” neighbor, Kadhimi said.
“We fought against Takfiri terrorist outfits together,” he said. “The Islamic Republic was among the first countries to stand by Iraq’s side [in the area] and we will not forget this.”
The Iraqi prime minister was referring to the military advisory support that Tehran started extending to Baghdad after Daesh’s emergence in the Arab country in 2014.
Iraq after ‘premium’ ties with Iran
“I emphasize this as I am addressing my Iranian brothers that Iraq wants premium relations with the Islamic Republic that are based on the principle of non-intervention in each country’s internal affairs,” Kadhimi noted.
He laid emphasis on the need for optimum coordination between the countries that would serve their respective interests in light of the existing challenges, including the coronavirus outbreak and the fall in oil prices.
“Iraq will also help Iran put the economic challenges that it faces behind,” he concluded, asserting that his country has turned into a sizable market for Iranian trade.