Even as the US tries to crack down on Iran’s trade and keep sanctions in place, Tehran is trying to reach out to Iraq, Turkey and Venezuela. On Thursday, Turkey reopened customs gates with Iran and reports indicate Iraq will continue to rely on Iran for energy even as Venezuela is gobbling up Iran’s gasoline.
On Thursday, Turkey’s Anadolu reported that customs gates that had been closed for months due to Covid-19 were reopening with Iran. The Habur and Gurbulak gates were opened for freights, Turkey said. These areas had been closed since March, but now Iran wants to boost trade. Iran and Turkey have the largest outbreaks of COVID-19 in the Middle East, with hundreds of thousands affected in each country and thousands dead.
Another report from Iraq indicates that Iraq will sign a 2-year agreement to bring in energy from Iran, a decision that Iran’s energy ministry is quite pleased with. The US had extended a waiver for Iran sanctions relating to Iraq importing energy. The US invaded Iraq in 2003 and toppled the Saddam Hussein regime. Since then, Iraq, increasingly under the control of pro-Iranian politicians, has outsourced its infrastructure and energy needs to Iran. This may have been orchestrated by Tehran to make Iraq dependent and give Iran a hostage foreign market for its exports, meaning Iraq can never disentangle itself despite US complaints. The goal of Iran was to make Iraq its “near abroad” and sponge up Iraqi assets. Iraq, once a country that had good infrastructure and met its energy needs, is now beholden to Iran. Iraq apparently doesn’t want to boost trade with its other neighbors such as Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Jordan or Turkey. In addition it has opened its border with Syria primarily only so Iranian-backed militas can control that border crossing at Albukamal.
Meanwhile, Iran eyes Pakistan and Afghanistan as well, trying to work with Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan as the US vows to leave Afghanistan. This will be another win for Iran and the IRGC’s Esmail Ghaani, an Afghanistan expert, is waiting in the wings to exploit the US withdrawal.
The US is concerned also that five tankers from Iran brought gasoline to Venezuela last month. Now the US is warning countries not to work with these tankers. The US claims that the Venezuelan Maduro regime will be removed eventually and that democracy will return to the country. But Maduro has defeated dissident plots and arrested Americans, showing that he may be firmly in power. The tankers that Iran sent showed that they can outplay the US close to America’s home ports. Iran’s goal is to show that it can also openly trade with Turkey and Iraq and thus show that even among US partners and allies, the Iranians will run circles around American sanctions. This is Tehran’s goal. Whether it will work is unclear, but news from Iraq, Turkey and Venezuela shows Iranian short-term victories.