Iranian FM visits Baghdad to discuss rising tensions with the US

Visit by Mohammad Javad Zarif comes as Iraqi leaders express their readiness to mediate in the US-Iran crisis.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif has arrived in Baghdad for talks with Iraqi officials amid heightened tensions between his country and the United States

His Saturday visit comes a day after the US announced the deployment of an additional 1,500 troops to the Middle East, a development that Zarif described as “dangerous”.

In Baghdad, Zarif was due to meet senior officials including Prime Minister Adel Abdel-Mahdi to discuss the crisis with the US and its regional consequences, sources in the Iraqi government said, without giving further details.

“Iraq is in a very delicate position because of the great influence that Iran has on this country. It is by far the largest regional ally of Iraq, be it economically, politically or militarily,” said Al Jazeera’s Charles Stratford, reporting from Iraq. 

Stratford however added that some leaders like Iraqi scholar Muqtada al-Sadr are “saying that anybody that tries to instigate any kind of political conflict or instability in this country will become an enemy of the Iraqi people”.

Meanwhile, Iraq’s Parliament Speaker Mohamad al-Halbousi said on Saturday that Baghdad is ready to mediate between the US and Iran if asked to do so.

Al-Halbousi’s comments came just days after Abdel-Mahdi revealed that Iraq will dispatch delegations to the US and Iran in an effort to ease tensions between the two countries. Iraq maintains close ties with both countries.

Tensions between the US and Iran have escalated ever since the Trump administration withdrew last year from the 2015 nuclear deal between the Islamic Republic and world powers, and reinstated American sanctions that have badly damaged the Iranian economy.

President Donald Trump has argued that the nuclear deal failed to sufficiently curb Iran’s ability to develop nuclear weapons or halt its support for militias throughout the Middle East that the US argues destabilise the region.

“We are ready to mediate to solve the crisis between Washington and Tehran if we are asked for that,” al-Halbousi said. He added that there has been “no official request for such mediation.”

On May 19, a rocket was fired into Baghdad’s heavily fortified Green Zone, landing less than a mile from the sprawling US Embassy.

There were no injuries and no group claimed responsibility, but the rocket was believed to have been fired from east Baghdad – which is home to Iran-backed Shia militias.

During his visit to Baghdad, Zarif will meet his Iraqi counterpart Mohamed al-Hakim, Iraqi President Barham Salih, and Abdul-Mahdi, according to Iran’s state news agency.

Iraq’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Ahmad Sahhaf said Zarif will discuss the situation in the region and ways of finding common ground.