Tillerson arrives in Iraq after rebuke from Baghdad over paramilitaries
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 Islamic State 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 paramilitary units, which have operated alongside government troops in battles against Islamic State 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.”
Iraqi forces are deploying tanks and artillery just south of a Kurdish-operated oil pipeline that crosses into Turkey, a Kurdish security official said, the latest in a series of Iranian-backed operations against the Kurds.
“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.
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