Hassan Rouhani on first official go to to Iraq

Hassan Rouhani on first official go to to Iraq”

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani is set to embark on a three-day visit to Iraq on Monday, the first one in his two terms in office and already billed in the media as "historic".

Iran's state news agency IRNA said Rouhani's remarks came in a telephone conversation with Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan, who said he would soon have "good news" for Iran, according to the agency.

Speaking in a joint press conference with Iraq's top diplomat Mohammed Ali al-Hakim on Sunday, Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said they had held "very good discussions".

He pointed out that Iran had stood by Iraq in "difficult" times - a reference to its training and arming of thousands of Iraqi Shia paramilitary fighters who have helped drive Islamic State (IS) militants out of the large parts of Iraq they seized in 2014.

The visit intends to send a strong signal to the U.S. that its policy of "maximum pressure" is not working, as Iran seeks to expand regional economic ties and display its political and military influence in Iraq.

Rouhani landed in Baghdad on Monday.

These relations could not be compared to Baghdad's ties "with an aggressor country like America", he said.

Rouhani added that Iran is ready to encourage Iran's private sector to transport its technical and engineering services to Iraq and invest in Iraq.

A senior Iranian official accompanying Rouhani told Reuters that Iraq was "another channel for Iran to bypass America's unjust sanctions. this trip will provide opportunities for Iran's economy".

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani called on Saturday for "decisive" action by Pakistan against a militant group behind a deadly suicide attack in a border area, saying failure to act could jeopardise relations.

Rohani is expected to also meet with Iraqi Prime Minister Abdel Abdul Mehdi and the country's chief Shi'ite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, in the city of Najaf. "One can not forget the bombs that Americans dropped on Iraq, Syria and other regional countries".

USA sanctions on Iran have not had the desired impact. Iraq paid another $6bn to Iran for natural gas, petroleum products and electricity.

They fought a long war from 1980 to 1988, but Tehran's influence expanded after the 2003 US-led invasion that toppled former dictator Saddam Hussein.

The agreement lifted sanctions that had been imposed by the United States, European Union and United Nations in return for Iran curbing aspects of its nuclear program.

In 2018, Iran's exports to Iraq came to about $9 billion, while an estimated 5 million religious tourists create some $5 billion a year in economic benefits as Iraqi and Iranian citizens visit Shi'ite holy sites in the two countries.

Mr Rouhani's visit also indicates how relations between the two states have changed.

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