03/13/2019, 14.36
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Economy, diplomacy and Islam (Shiite) in Rouhani's first official visit to Iraq

The Iranian president's three-day meeting in the neighboring country ends today. A memorandum of understanding was signed to relaunch trade, oil, health and infrastructure. A railway line from Basra to Shalamcheh is being studied. The goal is to go from 12 to 20 billion dollars in bilateral trade. And bypass US sanctions.

Baghdad (AsiaNews / Agencies) - A memorandum of understanding that includes agreements in the oil, trade, health and infrastructure sectors, including a railway line that will link the southern city of Basra with Shalamcheh, across the border in Iran. It is the one signed by the Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Mahdi and the Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, in the context of the first official visit to Iraq of the Tehran leader. A three-day event that began on March 11th and ends today with a stop in the Shiite holy city of Najaf (he was in Kerbala yesterday), where he will meet the great Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani.

At the moment bilateral trade between the two countries stands at a value of circa 12 billion dollars. The goal is to reach 20 billion in the short term, while trying to balance trade in favor of Tehran for oil and natural gas exports.

To boost trade and give a new impetus to the economy - bypassing limits and restrictions due to US sanctions - the two leaders have arranged measures to facilitate the activities of investors and businessmen and the issuing of visas. In this sector, the two nations have decided that they will be granted free of charge.

The three-day official - and high profile - visit of Rouhani in Iraq, contrasts with the whirlwind trip, of three hours and in great secrecy, made last December by US president Donald Trump. On this occasion the White House tenant did not meet any Iraqi government officials or senior religious figures, confirming Washington's growing disengagement from Syria and Iraq.

The agreements strengthen the bond between Baghdad and Tehran, also favored by the presence of a Shiite leadership in Iraq. The two nations in the 1980s fought a long and violent war, which caused victims and devastation.

The fall in 2003 of Saddam Hussein (in the context of a pro-Sunni regime) favored a rapprochement with the Islamic Republic, in a joint struggle against extremist and jihadist movements.

Rouhani's staff underline that Iraq "is a channel to bypass unjust US sanctions" and this trip will guarantee many "opportunities for the Iranian economy". The president himself wanted to underline the cultural and religious ties that unite the two countries, so firm that no one can separate them. Addressing the religious, ethnic and cultural elite, Rouhani concluded by saying that "millions of Iranians travel to Iraq each year, especially to Kerbala and Najaf". "We regard this land as the land of jihad, martyrdom, sacrifice and devotion" and "we are happy with this renewed brotherhood and solidarity".

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