Iraqi PM Mustafa al-Kadhimi arrives in Iran in first trip abroad

Prime minister to meet top Iranian leaders a day after deferring trip to Riyadh over King Salman's hospitalisation.

    Over the weekend, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif visited Baghdad in his first trip to Iraq since a US drone strike in January killed top Iranian General Qassem Soleimani outside the Iraqi capital's international airport.

    im????The attack pushed Iraq to the brink of a US-Iran proxy war that could have destabilised the Middle East.

    Before Zarif's visit, Iraqi security analyst Ahmad al-Abyad told Al Jazeera the trip was meant to communicate "two messages".

    im????"One is a cushioned warning to al-Kadhimi not to go forward with attempts to shore up economic links with the Gulf states, and the other is a message of mediation to its regional rival Saudi Arabia."

    im????In Baghdad, Zarif paid a visit to the site where Soleimani, who led the overseas arm of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, was killed, saying "Iran-Iraq relations will not be shaken".

    Al-Kadhimi, a former head of Iraq's National Intelligence Service, became prime minister in May after nearly six months of wrangling in the wake of a political crisis sparked by months of anti-establishment protests.

    He has been a strong advocate of Iraq's sovereignty, and has upset armed groups within Iraq that are affiliated to Iran, such as the Kataib Hezbollah militia. Last month, al-Khadimi ordered a raid on a Kataib Hezbollah base in Baghdad, which led to the detention of 14 of its members. Within days, 13 of the detainees were released, and the militia pledged to take legal action against al-Kadhimi.

    Iran, meanwhile, sees Iraq as a possible route to bypass crippling US sanctions that President Donald Trump re-imposed on Tehran in 2018 following Washington's unilateral withdrawal from a 2015 nuclear deal signed between Iran and world powers.

    im????Last year, Iran's exports to Iraq amounted to nearly $9bn, the official IRNA news agency reported Tuesday. It said the two nations would discuss increasing that amount to $20bn.

    Since the outbreak of the new coronavirus, religious tourism between Iraq and Iran has stopped. Before the pandemic, some five million tourists - bringing in nearly $5bn a year - visited Shia holy sites in the two countries.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies