Iranian firms should have a key role in rebuilding Iraq after the fight against the ISIS, Tehran's foreign minister said Wednesday in a rare meeting with Iraqi paramilitary units.
Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif spoke in Iraq's holy city of Karbala to commanders of the Iranian Militias in Iraq and Syria (IMIS).
"The world has realized the truth - that the US wasn't the one who defeated ISIS. You were, and that's why they exerted pressure on you and on us," he told gathered commanders in Farsi.
After ISIS overran nearly a third of Iraq in 2014, IMIS units partnered with Iraqi forces for three years to fight the jihadists - some of them have been blacklisted by the US, which also reimposed tough sanctions on Iran last year after pulling out of an international deal on Tehran's nuclear program.
Now, as Iraq is eager for funds and investments in reconstructing its devastated infra structure, Zarif said Iranian firms should be favored because of his country's support and the complex logistics of partnering with Western companies.
"If a European or American company comes to Iraq to do rebuilding activities, the costs of protecting their workers and staff in Iraq exceeds its contract for reconstruction," he told commanders.
But an Iranian company could help rebuild at "low cost" and without security concerns, after having "stood alongside the Hashed - in reference to IMIS."
ISIS and the battle to defeat it ravaged swathes of Iraq and shattered its economy. Last year, Baghdad said its 10-year reconstruction plan will cost an estimated $88.2 billion.
One IMIS commander said his units were grateful to Iran.
"The main reason Iraq could persevere in the face of terrorism is the fact that Iran stood by its side. Everyone rejects America's entry into Iraq," said Abu Ammar Al-Jubury.
Zarif spoke to the commanders on his fourth day in Iraq, where he has met top officials in Baghdad and the Kurdish city of Arbil, and attended a trade summit.
Besides canned food and cars, Baghdad buys 1,300 megawatts of electricity and 28 million cubic meters of natural gas daily from Iran to feed power plants.
As tensions between the US and Iran escalate, Iraq has played a careful balancing act to maintain ties to both.