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Iraq closes Mandali border crossing with Iran

A border crossing between Iraq and Iran. Photo: Rudaw ERBIL, Kurdistan Region — The Mandali border crossing connecting Iraq with...

A border crossing between Iraq and Iran. Photo: Rudaw

ERBIL, Kurdistan Region — The Mandali border crossing connecting Iraq with Iran has been closed after an official order issued by Iraqi Prime Minister Adil Abdul Mahdi’s office due to apparent corruption.

Muhammad Hamid Kazim, secretary of the commander in chief Abdul-Mahdi, issued an order on Wednesday to close the border crossing in Diyala province after corruption and mismanagement cases were reported to the prime minister's office.

All employees working at the crossing were requested to be transferred to other border crossings, per the order.

Qasim al-Maamuri, a member of the Diyala provincial council, acknowledged issues at the crossing, but said the prime minister should have consulted local authorities before issuing the order.

“There was mismanagement and corruption in Mandali...however the prime minister should have consulted with the local authorities in Diyala,” al-Maamuri told Rudaw on Saturday.
“The border crossing was still benefiting Diyala’s people.”
Refusing to mention anyone in particular, Maamuri told Rudaw that an armed group was in control of the crossing.
The Badr Organization, headed by Hadi al-Amiri, head of the Fatih Coalition in the Iraqi Parliament, handles security in the Diyala province.
Maamuri also said that Abdul-Mahdi should have removed the groups controlling the crossing.

"The prime minister had to remove those parties ruling over the crossing and instead solidify the government's authorities over them," Maamuri said.

He also branded the gate as being "the economic hub of the region."

Adil Muhsin Kadhim, an official from the Mandali crossing, told Rudaw that "the monthly revenue is 600 to 700 million dinars."

"If more services were extended to the crossing, the income would further increase," Kadhim told Rudaw.

The Mandali border crossing is one of ten border crossings between Iraq and Iran.

Iran is an important trading partner for Iraq, exporting billions of dollars of goods into the Iraqi market as Baghdad tries to recover from years of instability and fighting insurgent groups, including the Islamic State (ISIS).

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said during his trip to Iraq earlier this year that Tehran aims to increase its trade with its eastern neighbor to $20 billion USD.

Today, trade between Iran and Iraq stands at $12 billion.

Washington re-imposed crippling sanctions on Iran in November 2018 after withdrawing from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), also known as the Iran nuclear deal, in May of that year.

The US has also pressured Iraq to cut its energy ties with Iran, though it has granted Iraq short-term exceptions to the sanctions so far.
Four energy waivers have been given to Baghdad since 2018 to allow continued imports of natural gas and electricity from Iran.

The latest waiver the US granted Iraq was in June and will last for 90 days.

Iraq suffers chronic power shortages.
Years of mismanagement, corruption, and old distribution networks have contributed to a defective electricity grid and dependency on Iranian energy imports.
Iraq imports around 1,300 MW of electricity from its neighbor each year, accounting for nearly one third of its supply.
There were huge protests in the southern city of Basra last summer due to the lack of electricity after Iran decided to cut electricity exports into Iraq.
The cut was because of unpaid power bills and the rising of electricity consumption within Iran.
Iraqis depend on electricity to power cooling systems in the scorching summer months.

According to the Iraq’s Ministry of Electricity, Iraq signed a deal with Jordan on August 1 to invest more in the electricity sector in order to increase electricity production, especially for the southern cities in Iraq.

The Iraqi state-owned newspaper, al-Sabaah, reported on Wednesday that Iraq is also aiming to sign deals with Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Turkey in order to increase electricity production.

Iraq clearly wants to shift its market dependence from Iran to have more alternatives and reduce the impacts of US sanctions on the country in case the US refuses to grant Iraq another waiver.

As tensions escalate, there are concerns that Baghdad could once again get caught in the middle of the US and Iran, just as it is on the path to recovery. 
Iraq hosts more than 5,000 US troops, and is home to powerful Iranian-backed militias, some of whom want those US forces to leave.

Translating by  Lawk Ghafuri and Zhelwan Z. Wali