Nima Khorrami Assl writes: The US and EU have announced new sanctions in the hope of persuading Iran to abandon its alleged nuclear weapons programme, though how effective these will be is questionable. China, India, Russia, Turkey, Japan, and South Korea have already refused to go along with the new measures. Iran also has the means to evade the sanctions – through its proximity to Iraq.
Iran has often been singled out as the main beneficiary of the US-led invasion of Iraq, as well as the biggest threat to Iraq’s stability in the post-Saddam era. Iran’s uninterrupted support for Shia militia groups in southern Iraq, particularly the Mahdi army, is seen as one indication of its involvement in Iraqi politics and its ability to cause problems for adversaries.
And yet Iran’s key interest in Iraq is less about realpolitik than about trade. Iran is one of Iraq’s most important regional economic partners, with an annual trade volume between the two sides standing at $8bn to $10bn (£5bn to £6.4bn). However, it is Iraq’s 910-mile border with Iran, and therefore its geographical suitability as a smuggling hub for sanctioned goods, which is of paramount importance to Iran at present.
Until 2010, most of the sanctioned goods smuggled into Iran came through the UAE and Oman. Backed by the Iranian government and the Revolutionary Guards (IRGC), “small-size” strategic goods, including aircraft components and sophisticated electronic equipment, were smuggled into the Iranian islands of Kish and Qeshm from Dubai, Ras al-Khaimah and Madha. Since the beginning of 2010, however, the US government has put immense pressure on the Emirati and Omani governments to curb smuggling, threatening that failure to do so would cost them access to US markets and technology.
Wary of this, the UAE and Oman have both made the obvious choice and cracked down on smuggling between the southern and northern edges of the Gulf. In response, the Iranian government has turned its attention to Iraq in order to bypass western sanctions, and has imposed restrictions on Iranian businesses in the Gulf.
So far, most of the smuggling through Iraq has taken place in the mountainous Kurdish regions. For instance, since June 2010, when the US and EU imposed tougher sanctions on Iran’s gasoline imports, hundreds of millions of dollars in crude oil and refined products from the Kurdish region, Kirkuk, and Baiji have been smuggled to Iran on a daily basis.