Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif is on a visit to Iraq to pressure Baghdad into keeping its strategic alliance with Iran amid US-Iran tensions.
In recent months, the US and Iraq have also engaged in strategic dialogue. Iraq has been a battlefield between the US and Iran, with Iranian-backed militias that are part of Iraq’s government attacking US forces and America killing a top Iranian commander.
Zarif is in daily contact with the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. His visit comes after at least two visits by IRGC Quds Force commander Esmail Ghaani, who took over from Qasem Soleimani after the US killed him next to Baghdad International Airport in January.
Zarif’s visit is aimed at strengthening strategic relations, Iraj Masjidi, Iran’s ambassador in Baghdad, said over the weekend.
#Iran foreign minister in #Iraq: Javad Zarif visited the spot where #IRGC Quds Force chief Soleimani and #PMF/#PMU commander Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis were killed in a US drone strike in Baghdad, in January.— Khosro Kalbasi (@KhosroKalbasi) July 19, 2020
Zarif’s trip comes just before Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa Kadhimi is scheduled to travel to Iran and other countries, possibly Saudi Arabia. That means Iran’s message will be to pressure Baghdad to stay close to Tehran.
Iran has also signed a deal with Syria to provide air defense for the regime and is also trying to provide support for Lebanon’s economy, as both Iran and Hezbollah say Beirut is trying to work more closely with Beijing.
Zarif is also expected to meet with Kurdistan Regional Government officials, including President Nechirvan Barzani. He may also meet with the head of the Hashd al-Shaabi, a group of pro-Iranian militias, and Ammar al-Hakim. He will also express condolences for the death of Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, an Iraqi militia leader the US killed in January along with Soleimani.
Ali Shamkhani, secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, visited Iraq this March. In March 2019, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani signed a series of important bilateral trade deals with Iraq. Iran supplies Iraq with electricity and other goods, and it sees Iraq as its “near abroad,” trying to control it with a network of political parties and intelligence agents.
In August 2018, Iran transferred ballistic missiles to Iraq, and it did so again in the fall of 2019. Tehran carried out attacks on US forces in January with ballistic missiles fired from Iran, and it also used missiles to target Kurdish dissidents in September 2018.
Iran is seeking to raise the profile of pro-Iranian militias, called Hashd al-Shaabi, which it seeks to empower the way it does Hezbollah, turning it into a kind of local IRGC in Iraq.