Iraq’s new Foreign Minister Mohamed Ali Alhakim highlighted the importance of bilateral relations with Iran and said the Arab country cannot cut off its trade ties with the Islamic Republic due to the US sanctions.

Alhakim pointed to Washington’s economic sanctions against Tehran and said, the value of annual trade between Iran and Iraq amount to $12 billion, the Arabic-language Al-Manar TV reported.

“We are not in a situation that we would be able to stop our trade exchanges with Iran,” the Iraqi top diplomat noted.

Earlier, Luqman al-Fili, the official spokesman for Iraqi President Barham Salih, had said that the US sanctions against Iran are part of regional tensions.

It is necessary that the citizens of the region are not affected by the embargoes, Fili said, adding that Baghdad is ready to cooperate to decrease the tensions.

The second batch of US sanctions against the Islamic Republic of Iran took effect on November 5.

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.

Iran’s main exports to the neighboring country include agro products, foodstuff and fruits such as watermelon, tomato and cucumber, which account for 37% of the total exports.

Other Iranian exports to Iraq include canned food, tomato paste, chicken, egg, meat, construction materials (mainly rebar, tiles and ceramics), steel and evaporative cooler.

(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.

As the United States enacts sanctions on Iran, Iran is increasing its influence in Iraq with plans for a railway that could work around US restrictions.

The state-owned Islamic Republic of Iran Railways (RAI) revealed details Nov. 12 about its project to build a railway connecting Iran’s Shalamcheh border crossing to the port of Basra in southeast Iraq.

Maziar Yazdani, RAI’s deputy head of infrastructure and technical affairs, said the Shalamcheh-Basra leg of the project will require only 20 miles of new track at a cost of about $52,000. With the new addition, the rail system will span Iraq to reach Syria’s Mediterranean port city of Latakia.

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(Picture Credit: Tasnim, under Creative Commons licence)

Iranian ambassador to Baghdad said Iran and Iraq are weighing plans to eliminate US dollar in trade transactions and also lift visa requirements for citizens of the two countries.

Speaking at a TV program on Saturday night, Iraj Masjedi said Tehran and Baghdad are considering plans to use Iraqi dinar for trade transactions or develop barter trade considering the banking problems caused by the US sanctions on Iran.

He also voiced Iran’s willingness to remove visa restrictions for travels between the two countries, saying the idea of lifting visa requirements for merchants and business people was discussed during Iraqi President Barham Salih’s Saturday visit to Tehran.

Masjedi highlighted the ample opportunities available for the Iranian business sector available in the Iraqi market, saying the Baghdad government welcomes foreign investments.

“The government of Iraq is seeking foreign investment in the economic field, and has now offered 1,200 projects worth $100 billion,” the ambassador added.

He assured Iranian investors of improving security in Iraq, saying the security conditions in the Arab country’s inland and border regions have been getting better since the defeat of the Daesh (ISIL) terrorist group.

The Iraqi president visited Tehran on Saturday with a ranking delegation for a series of political and economic talks.

After high-profile talks between the Iranian and Iraqi delegations, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said the two neighbors can increase their annual trade from the current $12 billion to $20 billion.

Rouhani also noted that the two sides discussed ways for cooperation in the energy, power and oil industry, including the extraction of petroleum, and a plan to connect the two countries’ railroad networks.

(Source: Tasnim, under Creative Commons licence)

The U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) took action today to target four Hizballah-affiliated individuals who lead and coordinate the group’s operational, intelligence, and financial activities in Iraq.

Specifically, OFAC designated Shibl Muhsin ‘Ubayd Al-Zaydi, Yusuf Hashim, Adnan Hussein Kawtharani, and Muhammad ‘Abd-Al-Hadi Farhat 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.

“Hizballah is a terrorist proxy for the Iranian regime that seeks to undermine Iraqi sovereignty and destabilize the Middle East.  We are targeting terror facilitators like Al-Zaydi who smuggle oil for Iran, raise funds for Hizballah, and send fighters to Syria for the IRGC-Qods Force on behalf of Qasem Soleimani,” said Sigal Mandelker, Under Secretary of the Treasury for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence.

“Treasury’s concerted actions aim to deny Hizballah’s clandestine attempts to exploit Iraq to launder funds, procure weapons, train fighters, and collect intelligence as a proxy for Iran.  This administration will impose severe consequences on anyone assisting Hizballah and their global support networks, and those who engage in business relationships with these terrorists expose themselves to serious sanctions risk.”

These designations follow the signing into law on October 25, 2018, of the Hizballah International Financing Prevention Amendments Act of 2018, which reinforces the U.S. Government’s efforts to protect the international financial system by targeting Hizballah’s supporters, financial networks, and those that facilitate and enable its destabilizing activities worldwide.

Today’s designations specifically target individuals enabling Hizballah’s activities that undermine security and stability in Iraq, and carry significant risks for those attempting to conduct business with Hizballah globally.  Today’s action continues Treasury’s historic level of Hizballah-related designations, which have reached record numbers in 2018.

Treasury’s actions today again highlight the degree to which Hizballah operates as a clandestine, terrorist arm of the Iranian regime.  On November 5, 2018, in its largest ever single-day action targeting the Iranian regime, OFAC sanctioned over 700 individuals, entities, aircraft, and vessels.  This action completed the re-imposition of U.S. nuclear-related sanctions that were lifted or waived under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

The individuals designated today are subject to secondary sanctions pursuant to the Hizballah Financial Sanctions Regulations, which implements the Hizballah International Financing Prevention Act of 2015.  Pursuant to this authority, OFAC can prohibit or impose strict conditions on the opening or maintaining in the United States of a correspondent account or a payable-through account by a foreign financial institution that knowingly facilitates a significant transaction for Hizballah.

All property and interests in property of those persons designated today that are subject to U.S. jurisdiction are now blocked, and U.S. persons are generally prohibited from engaging in transactions with them.

Shibl Muhsin ‘Ubayd Al-Zaydi (Al-Zaydi)

Al-Zaydi was designated for acting for or on behalf of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps–Qods Force (IRGC-QF), and assisting in, sponsoring, or providing financial, material, or technological support for, or financial or other services to or in support of, Hizballah.

Al-Zaydi has served as a financial coordinator between the IRGC-QF and sectarian armed groups in Iraq and assisted in facilitating Iraqi investments on behalf of IRGC-QF Commander Qasem Soleimani, whom OFAC designated on October 11, 2011, for acting for or on behalf of the IRGC-QF.  Al-Zaydi has also coordinated the smuggling of oil from Iran on behalf of Iran, the smuggling of oil into Syria on behalf of Iran, and has sent Iraqi fighters to Syria allegedly at the IRGC-QF’s request.  Al-Zaydi has appeared publically with IRGC-QF Commander Qasem Soleimani at least four times.

Al-Zaydi has maintained close business ties to Hizballah officials and Hizballah financier Adham Tabaja (Tabaja).  These activities have included providing protection for companies in Iraq allegedly financed by Hizballah and facilitating the movement of Hizballah funding into Iraq for investments.  Al-Zaydi has also worked with senior Hizballah officials to transfer large sums of money to Lebanon to help fund Hizballah’s participation in the Syrian civil war.

Moreover, Al-Zaydi has transferred large sums of money to Tabaja and worked with OFAC-designated Muhammad Al-Mukhtar Kallas to facilitate the movement of bulk cash from Iraq to Lebanon on Tabaja’s behalf.  OFAC designated Tabaja on June 6, 2015, for acting for or on behalf of Hizballah.  Tabaja maintains direct ties to senior Hizballah officials and Hizballah’s operational component, the Islamic Jihad, and holds properties in Lebanon on behalf of the group.

In addition, Al-Zaydi is a partner and founder of Global Cleaners S.A.R.L., which OFAC designated on October 20, 2016, as an SDGT pursuant to E.O. 13224 for being owned or controlled by Tabaja.  Also, since its founding in 2014, Al-Zaydi has been the Secretary General of an Iran-aligned Iraqi sectarian armed group.  This armed group primarily operates in Iraq, but has also dispatched fighters to Syria, and its members have trained in Iran and with Hizballah in Lebanon.

Yusuf Hashim (Hashim)

Hashim was designated for acting for or on behalf of Hizballah.

Hashim oversees all Hizballah-related operational activities in Iraq and is in charge of protecting Hizballah interests in Iraq.  Additionally, Hashim arranges for the protection of Tabaja inside of Iraq.

Hashim has also managed Hizballah’s relations with sectarian armed groups in Iraq, including the coordination of the deployment of fighters to Syria.

Adnan Hussein Kawtharani (Kawtharani)

Kawtharani was designated for assisting in, sponsoring, or providing financial, material, or technological support for, or financial or other services to or in support of, Hizballah.

Kawtharani facilitates business transactions for Hizballah inside Iraq and has attended meetings in Iraq with sectarian armed groups and Hizballah officials.  Kawtharani has also been involved in securing a significant source of funding for Hizballah, and has served as the right hand man for his brother and senior Hizballah member Muhammad Kawtharani, whom OFAC designated on August 22, 2013, pursuant to E.O. 13224, for being in charge of Hizballah’s Iraq activities and working on behalf of Hizballah leadership to promote the group’s interests in Iraq, including Hizballah efforts to provide training, funding, political, and logistical support to Iraqi sectarian armed groups.

Further, as of 2016, Kawtharani worked to obtain a weapons contract in order to raise funds for Hizballah fighters.

Kawtharani is also a partner in the company Global Cleaners S.A.R.L.

Muhammad ‘Abd-Al-Hadi Farhat (Farhat)

Farhat was designated for acting for or on behalf of Hizballah.

Farhat has been involved in advising sectarian armed groups in Iraq on behalf of Hizballah.  As of 2017, Farhat was tasked with collecting security and intelligence information in Iraq and subsequently providing reports to senior Hizballah and Iranian leadership.  Farhat has been involved in a project to analyze and report on the Iraqi security situation for Hizballah and the IRGC-QF.

View identifying information on the individuals designated today.

(Source: OFAC)

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.

Iraq’s new Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi has opted for the policy of his predecessor, Haider al-Abadi, by committing himself to the US sanctions on Iran.

A few hours after he was sworn in, Abdul Mahdi stated Oct. 26 that when it comes to said sanctions, priority will be given to Iraq’s interests and independence.

Nevertheless, Iraq is seemingly incapable of doing without Iran, given their close bilateral economic ties. For this reason only, Iraq demanded that the United States allow the country to continue to import vital Iranian gas and energy supplies and food products. Washington consented Nov. 2, provided that payments not be made in US dollars.

Oil exports from the Kirkuk field, however, are excluded. Iraq’s new Oil Minister Thamer Ghadhban stressed that his country will “review” its current oil exports to Iran.

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Iraq Granted Exemption from US Sanctions on Iran’s Energy Exports

Iraq will continue to have access to the energy it needs from Iran to generate and supply electricity, Brian Hook, the special representative for Iran at the US State Department, said.

“Iraq has been granted an exemption” to the energy sanctions the US has re-imposed on Iran, Hook said Monday on a media conference call without providing details.

Iraq is still importing natural gas and electricity from neighboring Iran and has set up a bank account to process payments in Iraqi dinars, according to two Iraqi government officials, who asked not to be identified because they’re not authorized to speak to media, Bloomberg reported on Tuesday.

Iraq’s central bank officials said in August that the country’s economy is so closely linked to Iran that Baghdad would ask Washington for permission to ignore some US sanctions.

Iraq imports crucial supplies from its neighbor including gas for power stations.

(Source: Tasnim, under Creative Commons licence)

The United States has told Iraq that it will be allowed to keep importing crucial gas, energy supplies and food items from Iran after Washington reimposes sanctions on Tehran’s oil sector, three Iraqi officials said.

The waiver is conditional on Iraq not paying Iran for the imports in US dollars, said the officials, who included a member of Iraq’s ministerial committee that oversees energy activities, Reuters reported.

The US sanctions take effect on Nov. 4.

The ministerial committee official said Iraq’s finance ministry had set up an account with a state-run bank where Baghdad would deposit in Iraqi dinars the amounts owed to Iran for the imports.

Central bank officials said in August that Iraq’s economy is so closely linked to Iran that Baghdad would ask Washington for permission to ignore some US sanctions.

Iraq imports crucial supplies from its neighbor including gas for power stations.

(Source: Tasnim, under Creative Commons licence)

The United States has told Iraq that it will be allowed to keep importing crucial gas, energy supplies and food items from Iran after Washington reimposes sanctions on Tehran’s oil sector, three Iraqi officials said.

The waiver is conditional on Iraq not paying Iran for the imports in US dollars, said the officials, who included a member of Iraq’s ministerial committee that oversees energy activities, Reuters reported.

The US sanctions take effect on Nov. 4.

The ministerial committee official said Iraq’s finance ministry had set up an account with a state-run bank where Baghdad would deposit in Iraqi dinars the amounts owed to Iran for the imports.

Central bank officials said in August that Iraq’s economy is so closely linked to Iran that Baghdad would ask Washington for permission to ignore some US sanctions.

Iraq imports crucial supplies from its neighbor including gas for power stations.

(Source: Tasnim, under Creative Commons licence)

The U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) imposed sanctions today on Afaq Dubai, an Iraq-based money services business (MSB) that has been moving money for the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

Today’s designation follows action taken by the Department of Defense—announced on October 11—against a key ISIS financial facilitation group.  This MSB is a part of ISIS’s financial network that includes an array of other MSBs, hawalas, and financial facilitators in the Middle East.

OFAC named Afaq Dubai as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist pursuant to Executive Order 13224, for assisting in, sponsoring, or providing financial, material, or technological support for, or financial or other services to or in support of, ISIS.  Contrary to what the name may imply, this MSB is located in Iraq and does not have any branches in the United Arab Emirates.

“This Iraq-based MSB is a part of ISIS’s complex network of money services businesses, hawalas, and financial facilitators funding terrorism across the Middle East.  We are targeting this network in concert with the Department of Defense as part of this Administration’s ongoing campaign to cut off ISIS’s ability to launder money and move illicit funds,” said Sigal Mandelker, Treasury Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence.  “Even as ISIS’s hold on territory is eliminated, we will continue to search for and shut down the illicit financial networks ISIS utilizes to fund terror attacks and sustain operations.”

Today’s action is a continuation of Treasury’s ongoing efforts to shut down financial facilitators and MSBs worldwide that move money on behalf of ISIS.  It follows the designation of two ISIS financial facilitators in September with ties to the Caribbean and the Middle East.  In December 2016, OFAC designated Selselat al Thahab Money Exchange in Iraq, ISIS financier Fawaz Muhammad Jubayr al-Rawi, and his company, the Hanifa Currency Exchange in Albu Kamal, Syria.  Prior to his death, al-Rawi used the Hanifa Currency Exchange in Albu Kamal, Syria and a global network of financiers to move millions of dollars on behalf of the terrorist group.

OFAC closely coordinated today’s designation with the Combined Joint Task Force-Operation Inherent Resolve (CJTF-OIR), which released details on October 11 regarding its joint action against members of a key ISIS financial facilitation group, who leveraged this MSB as part of its operation.   Coordinated actions such as those conducted by DoD and Treasury this week disrupt and curtail ISIS’s logistical infrastructure, recruiting, and revenue generation.

As a result of today’s action, all property and interests in property of Afaq Dubai subject to U.S. jurisdiction are blocked and U.S. persons are generally prohibited from engaging in transactions with them.

DESIGNATED TARGET

Afaq Dubai

Afaq Dubai was designated for assisting in, sponsoring, or providing financial, material, or technological support for, or financial or other services to or in support of ISIS.

Afaq Dubai — which is located in Iraq — is part of a network of ISIS-associated money services businesses and financial facilitators in the Middle East.  It is run by two ISIS financiers, and, as of early 2018, laundered money for ISIS and provided money to ISIS families.

In May 2018, a Jordan-based ISIS financial facilitator deposited $3 million from Iraqi dinar into three exchanges, including Afaq Dubai.

Identifying information on the entity designated today.

(Source: OFAC)

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

Concerned that tensions between Iran and the United States could blow back onto Iraq, a senior Iraqi diplomat said today that Iraq would be willing to facilitate dialogue between the two nations.

“Iraq is capable and willing to facilitate and create communication between not only … the US and Iran, but with all the countries in the region,” Ahmed Mahjoub, spokesperson for the Iraqi Ministry of Foreign Affairs, told a small group of journalists and analysts at the Iraqi Embassy in Washington.

“During the recent two years, Iraq was able to solve a couple of problems between states,” Mahjoub said, adding that he could not discuss the details because the parties agreed not to disclose the Iraqi role in those mediations. “But I assure you that Iraq managed to solve problems between states during the last few years, and I believe that Iraq is willing to continue to this role.”

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