Iraq News

'Unreliable partner': critics blast Lavrov's visit to Baghdad

By Faris al-Omran

Iraqi Foreign Minister Fuad Hussein meets with Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov during Lavrov's February 5 visit to Baghdad. [Iraqi Ministry of Foreign Affairs]

Iraqi Foreign Minister Fuad Hussein meets with Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov during Lavrov's February 5 visit to Baghdad. [Iraqi Ministry of Foreign Affairs]

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov's recent visit to Baghdad is part of a Russian and Iranian campaign to pressure Iraq in order to ease the impact of international sanctions on Moscow and Tehran, observers said.

Moscow does not care about Iraq's interests, looking only to promote its own, they said.

Lavrov arrived in the Iraqi capital on February 5 with a high-level delegation that included representatives of 25 Russian media institutions, energy companies and various other sectors.

During the visit, the Russian foreign minister met with leaders of Iraq's political parties and government officials, including Iraqi President Abdul Latif Jamal Rashid.

The talks focused on boosting economic relations and increasing opportunities for Russian investment in Iraq, especially in the oil sector.

Russia's economic ties to Iraq are focused on the energy industry, Al-Monitor reported, noting that the two main players, Russian companies Lukoil and Gazprom, have more than $10 billion in investments in the country.

Because of the Western sanctions on Moscow as a result of its Ukraine invasion, however, Russian companies are facing difficulties in receiving payment.

Lavrov discussed the obstacles Russian companies now face with Iraqi officials, an Iraqi Foreign Ministry source told Al-Monitor.

He also discussed improving trade and economic relations between the two countries, particularly through the Russian-Iraqi Commission on Trade, Economic and Scientific Co-operation, the media outlet said.

Iraq's international obligations

The main objective of Lavrov's visit was to enlist Iraq in support of Moscow and in promoting rapprochement with Iran, Al-Nahrain University political scientist Qahtan al-Khafaji told Al-Mashareq.

Iran also serves Russian interests as a result of a strategic alliance between the two nations, he said, with both pressing "to sway Iraq to their side and benefit from an economic and strategic partnership with it".

Partnership with Iraq would "reduce the burden of the international restrictions imposed on them", al-Khafaji said.

But pressuring Iraq to disregard the international community's decision to punish Russia and Iran for their policies and interference in other states' affairs will damage Iraqi interests, he warned.

Iraq will therefore stay away from partnerships that could cause trouble, given the commitments it has with the international community, he said, "especially in the matter of trading in dollars and fighting terrorism".

Russia's questionable motives

Russia's aspiration to build bilateral relations with Iraq based on the two countries' mutual interests is questionable, observers said.

Moscow's investment offers and calls for co-operation are unilaterally beneficial, aimed solely at serving Russia's interests in the region and strengthening the influence of Iran and its proxy militias.

Russia, mired in troubles and isolated following its assault on Ukraine, is not ready to meet Iraq's urgent needs for development, they said.

Additionally, Moscow cannot be considered a reliable partner because of its policies that support terrorism through its co-ordination with the leaders of Iran-backed Iraqi militias that have committed crimes against the Iraqi people.

Co-ordination with Iranian allies includes reportedly frequent meetings of Asaib Ahl al-Haq militia leader Qais al-Khazaali with the Russian ambassador in Baghdad, Elbrus Kutrashev.

Harakat al-Nujaba leader Akram al-Kaabi also visited Moscow in November, raising concerns in Iraq that Russia is seeking to expand its influence in the Middle Eastern country via unofficial channels -- specifically Iran-backed militias.

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