BAGHDAD, (AFP) — Arab League chief Nabil al-Arabi is due in Baghdad on Thursday to discuss the regional bloc’s sanctions against Syria, which Iraq refuses to enforce, a foreign ministry official told AFP.
“He will hold talks with (foreign minister) Hoshyar Zebari, particularly on Syria,” the official said.
Zebari said late November that Baghdad expected a visit from Arabi to discuss an Arab League summit to be held in the Iraqi capital in March.
The pan-Arab body approved on November 27 an initial wave of sweeping sanctions against the Syrian government over its deadly crackdown on protest — the first time that the bloc has enforced such punitive measures against a member state.
Those measures included an immediate freeze on transactions with Damascus and its central bank and of Syrian regime assets in Arab countries.
But Iraq’s close trade ties with Syria, from which it imports significant amounts of foodstuffs, pushed the Iraqi government to abstain from the Arab League vote on sanctions.
“Our position is mainly economic. There is a trade exchange between Iraq and Syria, and a joint border,” Iraqi deputy foreign minister Labid Abbawi said, explaining Baghdad’s decision to abstain.
“This decision will affect the people of Syria more than the regime,” Abbawi said, but it “will have consequences for us as well as Syria.”
Trade between Iraq and Syria reached $2 billion last year, and is expected to reach $3 billion in 2011, according to official Iraqi and Syrian figures.