Trump speaks during a news conference in the briefing room at the White House in Washington. Susan Walsh/AP
Washington has granted Iraq a shortened 45-day sanctions waiver to import Iranian gas that will expire days before US President Donald Trump’s term ends, an Iraqi official said on Saturday.
Baghdad buys gas and electricity from its neighbour Tehran to supply about a third of its power sector, worn down by years of conflict and poor maintenance.
The US blacklisted Iran’s energy industry in late 2018 but granted Baghdad a series of temporary waivers, hoping Iraq would wean itself off Iranian energy by partnering with US firms.
The lengths of the exemptions have become a key tool in US policy towards Iraq, demonstrating the level of satisfaction or frustration with Baghdad.
In May, Washington granted Iraq a four-month extension as a gesture of goodwill towards Mustafa al-Kadhemi, who had just formed a cabinet seen as US-friendly.
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But when it renewed the waiver in late September, the Trump administration gave Iraq just 60 days.
This time, it went even shorter: 45 days, a top Iraqi official told AFP, expiring around a week before Trump is set to hand over the White House to President-elect Joe Biden.
“They (the Trump administration) wanted a last opportunity to have a say,” the official said.
The shorter waiver comes amid concern by Iraqi and Western officials that Trump could use his final days in office to strike at Iran and its allies in Iraq.
The State Department is drawing up plans for a possible closure of the American embassy in Baghdad, which has been targeted by dozens of rocket attacks in the last year.
And two Iraqi officials have said they expect a “bucket list of sanctions” against Iranian interests in Iraq ahead of the White House handover.
The sanctions, announced at the White House, marked the latest salvo in a US-Iranian confrontation that risked sliding into war a week ago with the deadly US drone attack on general Qasem Soleimani, who was by some measures the second most influential person in Iran.
Trump’s comments Sunday came amid escalating tensions in the Middle East following the killing of Gen. Qassem Soleimani, the head of Iran’s elite Quds force. Iran has vowed to retaliate and Iraq’s parliament responded by voting Sunday to oust US troops based in the country.
The Joe Biden administration said on Thursday it was ready to revive a 2015 agreement between Iran and world powers that former president Donald Trump abandoned in 2018 before reimposing sanctions on Iran.
US President Donald Trump on Wednesday tightened the screws further on Iran with sanctions on its mining industry after a frustrated Tehran said it would suspend some promises it made under a nuclear deal rejected by Washington.
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