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The New Arab Staff & Agencies

Iraqi PM arrives in Iran for first foreign visit

Kadhimi had been scheduled to visit Saudi Arabia before traveling to Iran [Getty]

Date of publication: 21 July, 2020

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Mustafa al-Kadhimi is expected to meet with Iranian President Rouhani and supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi arrived in Tehran on Tuesday in his first visit abroad since taking power, Iranian state television reported.

Kadhimi, who was greeted by officials at Mehrabad airport, is expected to meet President Hassan Rouhani and supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, among other senior officials.

His delegation includes Iraq's ministers of foreign affairs, finance, health and planning, as well as his national security adviser, the broadcaster said.

"We hope to have constructive talks for deepening relations" between the two nations, said Iran's government spokesman Ali Rabiei.

The Iraqi premier had been scheduled to visit Saudi Arabia as his first trip abroad, then quickly follow it up with a trip to Tehran in a carefully calibrated balancing act between the two regional rivals.

However the Saudi leg of his trip was postponed after King Salman was hospitalised on Monday.

Baghdad has often found itself caught in the tug-of-war between Riyadh, Tehran and Washington, which Kadhimi is also set to visit within the next few weeks.

Kadhimi rose to the premiership in May after serving as the head of Iraq's National Intelligence Service for nearly four years.

He formed close ties to Tehran, Washington and Riyadh during that time, prompting speculation he could serve as a rare mediator among the capitals.

The prime minister's trip to Tehran comes after receiving Iran's top diplomat Mohammad Javad Zarif in Baghdad on Sunday.

Iran sees Iraq as a possible route to bypass U.S. sanctions that President Donald Trump re-imposed on Tehran in 2018, after pulling the US out of the 2015 nuclear deal with world powers.

Last year, Iran's exports to Iraq amounted to nearly $9 billion, the official IRNA news agency reported on Tuesday. It said the two nations will discuss increasing that amount to $20 billion.

Since the outbreak of the coronavirus, religious tourism between Iraq and Iran has stopped. Before the pandemic, some 5 million tourists — bringing in nearly $5 billion a year — visited Shia holy sites in the two countries.

Under former dictator Saddam Hussein, Iraq waged an eight-year war in the 1980s against Iran, a conflict that left nearly 1 million killed on both sides.

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