By John Lee.

The Trump administration has reportedly granted Iraq a 120-day waiver from its sanctions against Iran, to allow it to continue importing electricity from the country during the hottest of the summer weather.

The decision followed a phone call on Friday between Secretary of State Michael Pompeo (pictured) and Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi.

The State Dept said it is continuing to work with Iraq to end its dependence on Iranian natural gas and electricity.

(Sources: Bloomberg, The National)

By John Lee.

The United States has imposed sanctions on an Iraqi company, South Wealth Resources Company (SWRC), which it is says is an Iraq-based affiliate of Iran‘s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).

The full text of the Treasury Department’s statement is shown below:

Today [Wednesday 13th June], the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) imposed sanctions on an Iraq-based Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-Qods Force (IRGC-QF) financial conduit, South Wealth Resources Company (SWRC), which has trafficked hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of weapons to IRGC-QF-backed Iraqi militias.

SWRC and its two Iraqi associates, who are also being designated today, have covertly facilitated the IRGC-QF’s access to the Iraqi financial system to evade sanctions.  This scheme also served to enrich previously sanctioned Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, an Iraqi advisor to IRGC-QF Commander Qasem Soleimani, who has run weapons smuggling networks and participated in bombings of Western embassies and attempted assassinations in the region.

SWRC and its two associates are being designated as Specially Designated Global Terrorists (SDGTs) pursuant to Executive Order (E.O.) 13224, which targets terrorists and those providing support to terrorists or acts of terrorism.

“Treasury is taking action to shut down Iranian weapons smuggling networks that have been used to arm regional proxies of the IRGC Qods Force in Iraq, while personally enriching regime insiders,” said Treasury Secretary Steven T. Mnuchin. “The Iraqi financial sector and the broader international financial system must harden their defenses against the continued deceptive tactics emanating from Tehran in order to avoid complicity in the IRGC’s ongoing sanctions evasion schemes and other malign activities.”

The IRGC-QF, designated pursuant to E.O. 13224 on October 25, 2007, is a branch of the IRGC responsible for external operations and has provided material support to numerous terrorist groups, including the Taliban, Lebanese Hizballah, HAMAS, and Palestinian Islamic Jihad, making it a key component of Iran’s destabilizing regional activities.  The IRGC-QF’s parent organization, the IRGC, was designated pursuant to E.O. 13224 on October 13, 2017, and on April 15, 2019 was designated as a Foreign Terrorist Organization by the Secretary of State.

South Wealth Resources Company

The IRGC-QF has used Iraq-based SWRC, also known as Manabea Tharwat al-Janoob General Trading Company, as a front to smuggle hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of weapons to its proxies inside Iraq, while also generating profit in the form of commission payments for Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, an OFAC-sanctioned advisor to IRGC-QF commander Qasem Soleimani, and two associates of SWRC who are also being designated today.  In addition to facilitating the IRGC-QF’s weapons smuggling into Iraq, SWRC has moved millions of dollars to Iraq for illicit financial activity benefitting the IRGC-QF and its Iraq-based militia groups.

SWRC is being designated today pursuant to E.O. 13224 for assisting in, sponsoring, or providing financial, material, or technological support for, or financial or other services to or in support of, the IRGC-QF.

Makki Kazim ‘Abd Al Hamid Al Asadi and Muhammed Hussein Salih Al Hasani

OFAC also is designating Makki Kazim ‘Abd Al Hamid Al Asadi (Makki Kazim Al Asadi) and Muhammed Husayn Salih al-Hasani (al-Hasani), two Iraq-based individuals who helped facilitate IRGC-QF shipments and financial operations via SWRC.  Both individuals and Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis received commission payments for contracts with SWRC.

Makki Kazim Al Asadi has acted as an intermediary to facilitate IRGC-QF shipments destined for Iraq, and has helped the IRGC-QF access the Iraqi financial system to evade sanctions.  Makki Kazim Al Asadi is being designated pursuant to E.O. 13224 for assisting in, sponsoring, or providing financial, material, or technological support for, or financial or other services to or in support of, the IRGC-QF.

Muhammed Hussein Salih Al Hasani is the authorized agent and representative of SWRC, which he registered in Iraq in 2013.  He has signed weapons contracts for SWRC.

Al Hasani is being designated pursuant to E.O. 13224 for acting for or on behalf of SWRC.

Sanctions Implications

As a result of today’s action, all property and interests in property of these targets that are in the United States or in the possession or control of U.S. persons must be blocked and reported to OFAC.  OFAC’s regulations generally prohibit all dealings by U.S. persons or within the United States (including transactions transiting the United States) that involve any property or interests in property of blocked or designated persons.

In addition, persons that engage in certain transactions with the individuals and entities designated today may themselves be exposed to sanctions or subject to an enforcement action.  Furthermore, unless an exception applies, any foreign financial institution that knowingly facilitates a significant transactions for any of the individuals or entities designated today could be subject to U.S. sanctions.

View identifying information related to today’s action.

(Source: US Treasury Dept)

By John Lee.

Prime Minister Adil Abd Al-Mahdi has met with German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas and his accompanying delegation during a visit to Baghdad.

The Prime Minister expressed his desire to deepen relations with Germany, and cited in particular the signing of a road map for the electricity sector with Siemens.

Minister Maas expressed German concern for stability in the region, and said he will visit Iran in the coming days to discuss this issue.

(Source: Office of the Prime Minister)

Iran Has Taken Invaluable Steps to Cement Ties with Iraq: Envoy

Iran’s Ambassador to Iraq Iraj Masjedi highlighted the importance of bilateral relations between the two neighboring countries and said Tehran has taken major strides to strengthen ties with Baghdad.

“We are trying to boost our relations with Iraq in all areas,” Masjedi said, addressing an appreciation ceremony for the outgoing Iranian consuls in the Iraqi cities of Sulaymaniyah and Karbala.

“The embassy of the Islamic Republic of Iran in Baghdad, as well as the affiliated organizations and consulates and other governmental agencies of Iran in Iraq, have taken invaluable strides and actions at various political, economic and security levels to strengthen relations between the two countries in recent years,” the diplomat noted.

Masjedi further pointed to historical, cultural and ideological commonalities of the two countries and said closer ties in all fields are in line with the interests of both Iran and Iraq.

Iran and Iraq enjoy cordial political, security and cultural ties but due to some internal and regional problems including Daesh (also known as ISIS or ISIL) terrorism in Iraq, they have not been able to increase their trade volume.

Heading a high-ranking delegation, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif recently paid an official visit to Iraq to boost ties with the Arab country in the sanctions era.

US President Donald Trump’s administration announced plans in March to extend a 90-day waiver for the second time to let Iraq continue energy imports from Iran.

(Source: Tasnim, under Creative Commons licence)

By Adnan Abu Zeed for Al Monitor. Any opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News.

After decades, Iran, Iraq ready to Dredge the Shatt al-Arab

Hope of restoring a clean water lifeline to Basra province is on the rise again with plans by the Iraqi and Iranian governments to revive the Shatt al-Arab as a source of drinking water and improve its functioning as a trade route.

Click here to read the full story.

By Hamdi Malik for Al Monitor. Any opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News.

ExxonMobil evacuated dozens of its non-Iraqi employees from Iraq on May 18. The evacuation follows a US State Department decision to withdraw its non-essential staff from the US Embassy in Baghdad and its consulate in Erbil, the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan.

The US oil company relocated its employees to Dubai, where they will continue their work related to the West Qurna-1 oil field in Basra. The company announced May 31 that it will begin returning its employees from June 2 after the Iraqi government promised to increase the security measures in the site.

Click here to read the full story.

By John Lee.

Contrary to recent reports that the US had granted a waiver to Iraq to allow it to continue buying power from Iran, a State Department spokeswoman reportedly said on Wednesday that this was not the case.

Reuters quotes Morgan Ortagus as telling reporters that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has not made a decision on this issue.

(Source: Reuters)

Iraqi officials said they have successfully carried out a plan to ensure the security of pilgrims converging on the holy city of Najaf, south of Iraq, to mark the martyrdom anniversary of Imam Ali (PBUH).

In a statement on Monday, the central Euphrates operations command said the Iraqi security forces have managed to implement a plan to provide security for the pilgrims gathering in Najaf to pay tribute to Imam Ali (PBUH) on his martyrdom anniversary and to mark Laylat al-Qadr.

Highlighting the success of the security scheme, Iraq’s Defense Ministry said Major General Qais Khalaf al-Mohammedawi, head of the central Euphrates operations command, has been overseeing the operation in person, Alforat reported.

In another successful operation in Baghdad, the security forces prevented an explosive-laden vehicle from entering the capital.

Officials said the affiliates of Daesh (ISIL) terrorist group had plans to deploy the car bomb into Baghdad, but the security forces at a checkpoint in Abu Ghraib road foiled the plot.

Each year in the Islamic month of Ramadan, Iraq steps up security in the holy city of Najaf to ensure the security of pilgrims.

A large number of Shiites from Iran and other countries travel to Najaf to mark the martyrdom of Imam Ali (PBUH) on 21st of Ramadan (the 9th month in the lunar Hijri calendar).

The shrine of Imam Ali (PBUH), Shiites’ first imam, is located in Najaf, 160 kilometers south of Baghdad. The city is now a great center of pilgrimage from around the Shiite Islamic world.

(Source: Tasnim, under Creative Commons licence)

By Mustafa Saadoun for Al Monitor. Any opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News.

US grants Iraq reprieve to continue buying Iranian gas

The United States has decided to grant Iraq a third 90-day sanctions waiver so it can continue to purchase gas from its sole provider, Iran, giving Baghdad some much-needed breathing room.

On May 22 in Baghdad, Joey Hood, US chargé d’affaires in Iraq, stressed to reporters that the waivers will not continue indefinitely, so the United States is working with Iraq to reduce its dependence on Iran.

Click here to read the full story.

Iraqi Foreign Minister Mohammad al-Hakim said his country would stand by the Iranian nation and government in the era of US sanctions against Tehran.

Iraq stands with Iran and is willing to act as an intermediary between its neighbor and the United States, Hakim said on Saturday speaking in a press conference with his Iranian counterpart Mohammad Javad Zarif in Baghdad.

He added that Baghdad does not believe an “economic blockade” by the US could be fruitful, according to Reuters.

Zarif, for his part, condemned the US sanctions and said Tehran would strongly defend itself against any military or economic aggression and called on Europe to do more to preserve the 2015 nuclear deal between Tehran and world powers.

In May 2018, the US president pulled his country out of the JCPOA, which was achieved in 2015 after years of negotiations among Iran and the Group 5+1 (Russia, China, the US, Britain, France and Germany).

Ever since, the EU has failed to make good on its promise to save the nuclear deal and facilitate Iran’s economic trade with the international community.

The Iranian minister also said that the Islamic Republic wanted to build balanced relations with its Persian Gulf Arab neighbors and that it had proposed signing a non-aggression pact with them.

(Source: Tasnim, under Creative Commons licence)