Abadi defends role of Popular Mobilisation Forces at meeting with Tillerson

Abadi defends role of Popular Mobilisation Forces at meeting with Tillerson
Tue Oct 24, 2017 08:34:34

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi defended the role of the Iranian-backed forces at a meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Monday in Baghdad.

(reuters) -- Tillerson arrived on Monday hours after the Iraqi government rejected his call to send home the Popular Mobilisation, an Iran-backed force that helped defeat Isis and capture the Kurdish-held city of Kirkuk.

In his opening remarks at the meeting with Tillerson, Abadi said Popular Mobilisation “is part of the Iraqi institutions,” rejecting accusations that it is acting as an Iranian proxy.

“Popular Mobilisation fighters should be encouraged because they will be the hope of country and the region,” he added.

Iraq is one of the few countries allied closely to both the United States and Iran, and Tillerson’s effort to drive a wedge between Baghdad and Tehran appeared to have backfired, drawing a sharp statement from the prime minister’s office.

Tillerson visited Iraq a day after a rare joint meeting with Abadi and Saudi Arabia’s King Salman in the Saudi capital, Riyadh.

After that meeting, he called on Iraq to halt the work of the Tehran-backed forces, which have operated alongside government troops in battles against Isis and, since last week, in a lightning advance that seized the oil city of Kirkuk from Kurdish security forces.

At his meeting with Abadi in Baghdad, Tillerson urged the Iraqi government and Masoud Barzani’s Kurdistan Regional Government in Erbil to resolve their conflict on Kurdish self-determination and disputed territories through dialogue.

“We are concerned and a bit sad,” Tillerson said. “We have friends in Baghdad and friends in Erbil, and we encourage all parties to enter into discussion ... and all differences can be addressed.”

“Iranian militias that are in Iraq, now that the fight against Daesh and ISIS is coming to a close, those militias need to go home,” Tillerson said on Sunday in Saudi Arabia.

Abadi’s office responded sharply.

“No party has the right to interfere in Iraqi matters,” a statement from his office read. It did not cite the prime minister himself but a “source” close to him. It referred to the Popular Mobilisation as “patriots”.

One of the groups within Popular Mobilisation, Asaib Ahl al-Haq, reacted to Tillerson’s comment by saying it would be Americans who will be forced to leave Iraq.

(Photo: reuters)

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