Top Iran General in Baghdad for Talks 04/02 06:05
A top Iranian general arrived in Baghdad this week to try and unify Iraq's
fractured political leaders, Iraqi officials said Wednesday, as stiff
opposition by one major bloc thwarts chances the country's latest prime
minister-designate can form a government.
BAGHDAD (AP) -- A top Iranian general arrived in Baghdad this week to try
and unify Iraq's fractured political leaders, Iraqi officials said Wednesday,
as stiff opposition by one major bloc thwarts chances the country's latest
prime minister-designate can form a government.
Meanwhile, revenues from oil exports were slashed by nearly half due to
plummeting oil prices in March, according to figures released Wednesday by the
Oil Ministry, pushing Iraq into deeper economic uncertainty amid political
dysfunction and the coronavirus pandemic.
Esmail Ghaani, head of Iran's expeditionary Quds Force, arrived in Baghdad
late Monday, Iraqi officials said, in his first public visit to Iraq since
succeeding slain Iranian general Qassim Soleimani. His arrival at Baghdad
airport came amid a curfew to stem the spread of the coronavirus that has
halted inbound and outbound flights.
The four Iraqi officials spoke on condition of anonymity in line with
Soleimani, along with Iraqi militia leader Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, was killed
Jan. 3 in a Washington-directed airstrike outside Baghdad airport. The attack
led to deteriorating U.S.-Iraq relations and prompted Iraqi lawmakers to call
for the withdrawal of U.S. troops in a non-binding resolution.
After arriving, Ghaani left the airport under tight security in a
Known for his ability to make even the staunchest Iraqi rivals see
eye-to-eye, Soleimani had made frequent trips to the Iraqi capital to forge
unity during times of political paralysis.
Ghaani's visit coincides with a burgeoning crisis in Iraq as Prime
Minister-designate Adnan al-Zurfi faces resistance from some powerful political
elites. Meanwhile, there is deepening fragmentation across the political
spectrum. Selected on March 16, al-Zurfi has 30 days to present a Cabinet
One of the Iraqi officials who spoke to the AP said Ghaani suggested in the
meetings that Iran and the Revolutionary Guard do not want al-Zurfi to be the
next prime minister.
Amid the ongoing leadership void, an economic crisis is also brewing.
The Oil Ministry said Iraq had earned $2.9 billion in oil revenues in the
month of March, down by nearly half compared to February. Oil sold at an
average price of $28 per barrel, according to spokesperson Assem Jihad. In
February, by contrast, Iraq earned $5.05 billion based on an average price of
$51 per barrel.
Iraq relies on oil revenues to fund over 90% of state spending. The 2020
budget projected an oil price of $56 per barrel to fund expenditures.
Experts have warned that if the slump in oil revenues is prolonged, Iraq
will be unable to pay public sector salaries, a step that will likely lead to
The government has been taking steps to conserve dollar reserves and cut
back on spending.
This month, the oil ministry requested that international oil companies
reduce expenditures by 30% while keeping production rates the same, according
to two industry officials.
One of the officials said a lot of tenders and projects will be halted and
planned production increases will be delayed. The officials spoke on condition
of anonymity to not derail ongoing talks with the government.
Many officials considered Ghaani's visit to be a test of his ability to
establish consensus among rival parties like his predecessor had. Given his
poor command of Arabic and lack of personal relationships with key figures,
some were in doubt.
"This is his first test to see if he can succeed in uniting the Shiite
position, as Soleimani was doing," said a senior Shiite political official,
speaking on condition of anonymity to comment freely about the visit, which has
not been publicly announced.
"Iran is still powerful and (Ghaani) will have to rely on threats to try and
find some way to bring back the massive fragmentation that is Iraqi elite
politics today," said Renad Mansour, senior research fellow at Chatham House in
London. "Carrot and stick rather than managing networks."
Iraq's political scene has become more difficult to maneuver since
Soleimani's death, with more political infighting between Shiite and Kurdish
"There are too many people who feel entitled to a piece of the pie," said
Mansour. "The competition seems heightened."
The Fatah bloc in parliament, which came in second after Sairoon in the May
2018 election, vehemently opposes al-Zurfi on the grounds that his selection
was made unilaterally by the president and without political agreement. Headed
by Hadi al-Ameri, Fatah is composed of parties with affiliated militias under
the Popular Mobilization Forces, some of which are Iran-backed. The Sairoon
bloc, led by influential Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, initially supported