Joey Hood, then the deputy chief of mission for the US Embassy in Iraq, speaks during the Third International Conference to Counter Daesh Propaganda and Ideology in Baghdad, Iraq, on December 13, 2017. Photo: Sgt. Von Marie Donato | US Army
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – Iraq has been granted yet another exemption from US sanctions on Iran, allowing it to continue importing Iranian energy, Joey Hood, chargé d’affaires of the US Mission in Iraq, confirmed Wednesday.
However, Hood said the US is working with Iraq to help break its reliance on Iranian energy.
“Iraq has an exemption from the American sanctions, so that it can continue to purchase energy from Iran, but we are also working with the Iraqi government and supporting them in every way that we can to increase the energy independence of this country,” Hood told reporters in Baghdad.
Hood’s comments first appeared in the Iraqi media and were later confirmed by the US embassy in an email to Rudaw English.
Iraq depends on Iranian energy to subsidize its ramshackle power grid. Riots broke out in Iraq’s southern city of Basra last summer when Iran briefly cut is electricity exports.
Washington reimposed sanctions on Iran after withdrawing from the 2015 nuclear deal, specifically targeting Tehran’s lucrative oil sector.
Major importers of Iranian oil, including China, Greece, India, Italy, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, and Turkey, were initially granted waivers to allow them time to find alternatives.
The US scrapped these waivers in April, but continued to renew Iraq’s special exemption.
Tensions with Iran have since escalated further, with the US withdrawing all non-essential staff from its missions in Baghdad and Erbil and deploying an aircraft carrier group and B-52 bombers to the Persian Gulf, citing an unspecified Iranian threat.
In a possible act of provocation, unknown actors fired a rocket into Baghdad’s Green Zone on Sunday, which fell less than a mile from the sprawling US embassy compound.
Asked about the incident, Hood said: “No one as far as I know has claimed responsibility for that rocket. So, I can’t really tell you what they were aiming at or what their goal was.”
Authorities believe the rocket was fired from the east of the city, where Iran-backed militias maintain a strong presence.
Eager to characterize the rocket attack as an isolated incident, Iraqi Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi told reporters in his weekly press conference Tuesday night that Iraq wishes to mediate between Washington and Tehran.
“We will send delegations within the coming days to the different capitals of the countries involved, especially Tehran and Washington, to attempt to push for de-escalation and reach agreements, because all sides say they don’t want war, rather to negotiate,” Abdul-Mahdi said.
However, Hood said he was not aware of any Iraqi mediation, and declined Baghdad’s involvement.
“We always welcome the opportunity to consult with our friends in the Iraqi government. The exchange of views especially in an environment of heightened tension is critical,” said Hood.
“I’m not aware of an offer by the Iraqi government to mediate formally between Iran and the United States, and it’s something that we do not particularly need at this moment.
“We know how to communicate with the Iranians and we hope that they can come to the negotiating table as soon as possible so that we can work out our differences diplomatically,” he added.
Tehran has ruled out negotiation with Washington until the economic pressure is lifted.