TEHRAN – Iran has agreed to resume gas exports to neighboring Iraq, thereby saving Iraq from a widespread power outage. The agreement to end the energy dispute was reached between the two countries during the recent visit by Iranian Energy Minister Reza Ardakanian to Baghdad.
The energy row began nearly three weeks ago when Iran moved to reduce gas exports to Iraq to five million cubic meters from 50 million cubic meters due to Iraq’s failure in paying its outstanding debts to Iran, according to Iraq’s Electricity Ministry. Earlier this week, Iran informed the Iraqi ministry that it was planning to further cut gas shipments to three million cubic meters, a move that sent Iraqi electricity officials scrambling to resolve their differences with Iran because Iraq had lost around 6,550 megawatts of electricity as a result of Iran slashing gas flows to Iraq, which heavily relies on Iran-supplied gas to feed its power plants.
On Sunday evening, an Iraqi delegation headed by Abu Jihad al-Hashemi, an influential former Iraqi official with close ties to Iran, visited Tehran to discuss a range of issues. Iran said this visit was quite common.
“This visit took place and the advisor to the Iraqi prime minister came to Iran, and we have regular and close contacts with the Iraqi officials in various fields. They traveled to Iran at our invitation and have come to Iran to discuss bilateral issues and developments, and these talks between Iran and Iraq are quite common,” Saeed Khatibzadeh, the spokesman for Iran’s Foreign Ministry, said on Monday.
The visit came amid soaring tensions between Iran and the U.S. following a rocket attack on the U.S. embassy in Baghdad. The U.S. blamed the attack on what it called “Iran-backed militias” but Iran rejected the accusation as “dubious.”
The visit also came on the same day Iraq announced the reduction of Iran’s gas export to Iraq. Ahmed Moussa, a spokesman for the Iraqi Electricity Ministry, told Reuters and Asharq Al Awsat that Iran has slashed its gas export to Iraq due to unpaid bills.
Moussa also said that Ardakanian was expected to pay a visit to Iraq on Tuesday. The Iranian minister traveled to Iraq on that day as expected and met with several Iraqi officials including his Iraqi counterpart Majid Mahdi Hantush, Iraqi Trade Minister Alaa Al-Jabouri, Central Bank Governor Mustafa Ghaleb and Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi.
His meetings with the Iraqi officials ended in the two sides arriving at a solution to the trade issues between Tehran and Baghdad, especially the Iranian gas revenues frozen in Iraqi bank accounts due to the United States sanctions on Iran.
Speaking on the sidelines of a cabinet session on Wednesday, Ardakanian said that he had “intensive and good meetings” with Iraqi officials with whom he reached written agreements.
“First of all, we received around $700 million of our assets from Iraq. In other words, they have transferred and deposited the money to [our bank] accounts,” the Iranian energy minister said, adding that Iraq is going to open a euro bank account for Iran to pave the way for settling all the country’s gas and electricity dues to Iran.
“Iraq’s recent and past debts to our country will be transferred and saved in this account after being exchanged to euro,” Ardakanian pointed out.
Iran and Iraq also reached a range of agreements to further deepen economic and trade ties between them, another sign that the two countries have a strong will to boost their ties despite all problems caused by U.S. sanctions on Iran, which are the main reason why Iraq has defaulted on its debts to Iran.
U.S. President Donald Trump imposed sweeping economic sanctions on Iran after unilaterally withdrawing from the 2015 nuclear deal – officially known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA)- on May 8, 2018.
The U.S. sanctions have impinged on Iran’s foreign trade, including with Iraq, which relies on Iranian gas to meet its energy meets. Iraq’s reliance on Iran’s energy exports is so heavy that the U.S. was forced to issue sanctions waivers to Iraq allowing it to continue importing Iranian gas and electricity. Because if Iraq stops importing gas and electricity from Iran, it will face massive power blackouts from time to time as was the case in recent weeks.
Iran is aware of this fact and that’s why it refrained from cutting gas export to Iraq to keep the lights on in Iraqi houses. On the other hand, the U.S. did nothing to help the Iraqis cope with power outages. Instead, it sought to make Iran’s energy exports to Iraq even more difficult by putting restrictions on the transfer of Iranian money from Iraq to Iran.
The recent electricity crisis in Iraq was a reminder of how destructive U.S. policies are for ordinary Iraqis, who keep suffering from power outages due to U.S. sanctions on Iran. The current electricity crisis is coming to an end as a result of Iran resuming gas flows to Iraq. But concerns over Iraq’s future remain in place as the U.S. may seek to put more pressure on Iraq to force it into abiding by its sanctions on Iran. Pundits believe that the next Iraqi parliamentary elections would be crucial in this regard as it may set Iraq on a new path and determine its future for years to come.
Iraq is expected to hold an early parliamentary election on June 6, 2021, a major development for Iraq and the wider region.
“June 6, 2021, has been fixed as the date for the next legislative elections,” al-Kadhimi said in late July.
Al-Kadhimi is the interim prime minister of Iraq who came to power after months of deadly protests that deposed his predecessor Adel Abdulmahdi.
Some analysts believe that the U.S. and its regional allies may seek to turn the upcoming Iraqi election into a soft coup against the will of the Iraqi people to undermine the strong bonds between the Iraqi people and some political factions and Iran. And if they fail to undermine the Iranian influence, they may resort to their Plan B, which will have destructive consequences for Iraq. Analysts point to various scenarios as Plan B of the U.S. One scenario is for the U.S to revive the Daesh terrorist group to punish the Iraqi people for keeping their relations with Iran.
The other scenario is that the U.S. may once again revive the old idea of disintegrating Iraq into two autonomous regions alongside the Iraqi Kurdistan region – one for Sunni Arabs of western Iraq and the other for Shia Arabs of southern Iraq.
In fact, the plan to partition Iraq along sectarian and ethnic lines has been seriously discussed since 2006. And the man who put it up for debate was none other than Joe Biden. In a co-authored op-ed for The New York Times on May 1, 2006, Biden famously called for partitioning Iraq into three regions to pave the way for the U.S. to withdraw its troops from the war-torn country.
Biden advised then-President George W. Bush, who was coping with mounting sectarian violence in Iraq, to “establish three largely autonomous regions with a viable central government in Baghdad.”
“The Kurdish, Sunni and Shiite regions would each be responsible for their own domestic laws, administration and internal security. The central government would control border defense, foreign affairs and oil revenues. Baghdad would become a federal zone, while densely populated areas of mixed populations would receive both multisectarian and international police protection,” Biden wrote.
The Biden plan has never been implemented, even during the Obama administration when Biden was vice-president for eight years from 2009 to 2017. But Biden is going to take the helm of the White House in less than three weeks. And this could make it easier for him to implement what Bush and Obama refused to: partitioning Iraq along sectarian and ethnic lines, this time not to contain sectarian violence, but instead to undermine Iran’s influence in Iraq through fomenting sectarian violence, a move that will justify implementing the Biden plan.