BAGHDAD:- Iran's President Hassan Rouhani has arrived in Baghdad on his first official visit to the nation that Tehran once fought a bloody war against and later backed in the battle with the terrorism.
Iranian President has arrived in Baghdad on a trip that is aimed at solidifying strategic ties despite US efforts to keep the two neighbors apart and curb Iran's influence in the region, Press TV reported.
Rouhani will begin official engagements only after paying obescience at the shrine of seveth Shia Imam in Kazmain near Baghdad.
He will then meet President Barham Salih and Prime Minister Abdel Abdul Mehdi, as well as visit other politicians, religious and tribal leaders.
Since Rouhani's election in 2013, Iraq has relied on Iranian military support to fight Daesh following the group's capture of the Iraqi city of Mosul and other territories in both Iraq and Syria.
Now, with the Daesh facing a final territorial defeat in the Syrian village of Baghouz, Iran is looking for Iraq's continued support as it faces a maximalist pressure campaign by President Donald Trump after his decision to withdraw the United States from Tehran's nuclear deal with world powers.
Rouhani's visit is a strong message to the US and its regional allies that Iran still dominates Baghdad, a key arena for rising tension between Washington and Tehran.
The trip, described as "historic and noble" by Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, has been viewed by experts as Iran's response to US President Donald Trump's snap trip to Iraq in December.
Trump slipped into Iraq on Christmas and spent most of his short visit outlining how he wanted to keep US troops in the Arab country in order to "watch" Iran with which Iraq shares a 1,400-kilometer-long border.
Unlike Trump, who had to land in a military base in the dark of the night with no Iraqi officials on hand to welcome him, Rouhani touched down in Baghdad in broad daylight and was received by high-ranking authorities.
Reacting to Trump's secret visit, Rouhani asserted that flying into Iraq under the cover of darkness meant "defeat" for the US in Iraq and asked the US president why he did not opt for an "open and official visit" instead.
During the three-day visit, a series of agreements will be signed in fields such as energy, transport, agriculture, industry and health, state news agency IRNA reported.
"Iraq is another channel for Iran to bypass America's unjust sanctions imposed on Iran. This trip will provide opportunities for Iran's economy," a senior Iranian official, who is accompanying Rouhani, told Reuters news agency.
Increasing trade ties
Addressing a joint press conference with Iraq's top diplomat Mohammed Ali al-Hakim on Sunday, Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said they had held "very good discussions".
The Iranian foreign minister thanked Iraq for having "refused the unjust and illegal sanctions imposed on the Iranian people" in reference to the US measures.
After Turkey, Iran is the top supplier of imported goods to Iraq, and Rouhani said his discussions with Hakim covered sectors including trade and health.
Iran and Iraq plan to raise their annual bilateral trade to $20bn from the current level of $12bn, according to Rouhani. The bulk of the trade balance is tilted towards Iran with gas and energy exports.
"Rouhani is coming to discuss ... trade between the countries [and] the issue of easing trade exchanges in Iraqi local currency and finding other ways, like Germany and Britain, to adopt an alternative European currency to circumvent US sanctions," Iraqi political analyst Hisham al-Hashemi told the AFP news agency.
Many observers have described the trip as a milestone in Iran-Iraq ties and a humiliating defeat for the US-led campaign to alienate the two neighbors.
What the campaign's main supporters have seemingly failed to account for in their dealings is the unshakable bond that the Iranian nation has developed with its neighbors, with whom it shares thousands of years of history.
Iraqi President Barham Salih best portrayed Baghdad's disregard for such attempts, saying on Sunday that Iraq won't join the American push against Iran even though it knows the stance will harm Baghdad's own interests.