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US grants Iran sanctions waiver to Iraq

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BAGHDAD, Feb 10, (AP): The United States has signaled to Iraq its willingness to extend sanctions waivers enabling the country to continue importing vital Iranian gas and electricity imports, three Iraqi officials said this week, a move that would be a key test of Baghdad-Washington ties. The decision comes amid strained US-Iraqi ties following last month’s Washington-directed airstrike in Baghdad that killed a high-profile Iranian general and a senior Iraqi militia leader.

In this Saturday, Feb. 8, 2020 photo, workers fold U.S. flags and Israeli flags with a slogan in Persian which reads, “Death to Israel” at the Diba Parcham Khomein factory in Heshmatieh village, a suburb of Khomein city, in central Iran. Their work is destined to go up in smoke. This factory serves as a major producer for the American and Israeli flags constantly burned at demonstrations in the Islamic Republic. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi)

A previous waiver, granted in October, is set to expire on Feb 13. The three officials said the US State Department, which issues such waivers, has conveyed its readiness to extend the waiver for another three months – if Iraq is able to formulate a timeline by the end of the week, detailing a plan to wean itself off Iranian gas dependence.

“The American side has announced to us their readiness,” said one of the officials. The officials interviewed are all senior members of Iraq’s government, including one who is close to the negotiations with the Americans.

They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly about the matter before it becomes official. There was no immediate comment from US officials. The Iraqi officials said the new waiver would be a test of Baghdad- Washington ties after tensions soared following a Jan 3 US airstrike near the Baghdad airport that killed a top Iranian general, Qassem Soleimani, and senior Iraqi militia leader Abu Mahdi al- Muhandis.

Since then, Iraqi Shiite political leaders have pushed a non-binding resolution through Parliament to pressure the government to oust US troops from the country. Washington has responded to Iraq’s requests to initiate troop withdrawals with blunt refusal, even threatening primary sanctions that could cripple Iraq’s economy.

Tensions have cooled in recent weeks, with both sides stepping back from saber-rattling rhetoric. Rival Iraqi blocs in Parliament have also selected a prime minister-designate, Mohammed Allawi, to replace outgoing Premier Adel Abdul- Mahdi. Iraqi security forces shot and killed at least one protester in the country’s south on Monday, official said as the five-month antigovernment protest movement enters a critical stage.

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