Iraq rebuffs US demands to stop buying energy from Iran

  "Iraq will not be part of the sanctions regime against Iran and any other people," he said.

WASHINGTON: The Trump administration is pressuring Iraq to stop buying energy from its neighbour and sole foreign supplier, Iran, in what has become a major point of conflict between Washington and Baghdad.

 Iraqi leaders, fearing that a further shortfall in power would lead to mass protests and political instability in their electricity-starved country, are pushing back on the demand, which is rooted in President Donald Trump's sanctions against Iran. 

 The dispute has frayed US diplomacy with Baghdad as Iraq tries to steady itself after the US military withdrawal in 2011 and the campaign against the Islamic State.

 Iraq's defiance further jeopardises Trump's goal of getting all nations to comply with sanctions after withdrawing from the deal to limit Tehran's nuclear program last year. 

Already, European nations have set up a legal financial mechanism to do business with Iran, and China and India are resisting American efforts at prodding them to cut off oil purchases. 

 Tensions rose after Trump said on February 3 that he planned to have American troops who have returned to Iraq "watch Iran", despite Baghdad's need to maintain cordial ties with its fellow Shia neighbour. 

"The people of Iraq have suffered from the blockade and are aware of the harm done to the people by their actions," PM Adel Abdul Mahdi of Iraq said last week.

 He was referring to 13 years of crippling sanctions imposed on Iraq by the US when Saddam Hussein was in power.

 "Iraq will not be part of the sanctions regime against Iran and any other people," he said. 

American officials are seeking to cut off Iraqi purchases of natural gas and electricity, even though the country relies on those for a good portion of its energy needs. 

Iraq's energy production and grid capabilities have lagged since the American-led invasion of 2003, and blackouts in cities are common.

 Iranian natural gas is the single most critical energy import in Iraq, but American officials say purchases must end now because gas falls under the American sanctions. 

And the Trump administration has told Iraq's leaders that they have until late March to end electricity purchases. 

Officials in Baghdad say there is no easy substitute for either one because it would take three years or more to adequately build up Iraq's energy infrastructure.

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