Iraq Cautioned Against Trusting US

The key to Iraq’s success against terrorists and their backers was unity among ethnic groups and the Iraqi government’s support for brave and faithful popular forces
Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei receives Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi in Tehran on Oct. 26.Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei receives Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi in Tehran on Oct. 26.

The Leader of Islamic Revolution cautioned the Iraqi government against placing its trust in the US, as Washington is pushing Baghdad to distance itself from Tehran.

Speaking in a meeting with visiting Iraqi Premier Haider al-Abadi on Thursday, Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei said Tehran backs Iraqi efforts to improve relations with regional countries, but it believes Baghdad should be wary of “the US machinations and never trust them”.

The Leader was referring to Abadi’s Sunday trip to Saudi Arabia, where he attended the inaugural meeting of the Saudi Arabia-Iraq Coordination Council, the Leader’s official website reported. The meeting between Abadi and King Salman, which marked a thaw in relations between their governments after decades of tension, was also attended by US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.

Some commentators described the Saudi-organized council as another attempt at courting Iraq by US officials and their allies in the hope of driving a wedge between Baghdad and Tehran and pull the Arab nation into their political orbit.

After the council meeting, Tillerson said he hopes a stronger, more “independent” Baghdad would be able to “counter some of the unproductive influences of Iran” inside Iraq. Speaking at a news conference with Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir, Tillerson also said “Iranian militias” who are in Iraq should “go home”, as the fight against the self-styled Islamic State terrorist group is ending.

The US foreign secretary was apparently referring to Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Forces, which was formed in 2014 after IS seized large swathes of northern Iraq.

The 60,000-strong PMF, assisted by Iranian advisors, has played a key role in Iraq’s fight against IS in the past three years, which has forced IS out of most of the territories it had seized. Tillerson’s comments prompted a sharp response from Abadi who said PMF forces are Iraqi patriots who “have sacrificed greatly to defend their country”.

In a statement on Monday, Abadi said “no side has the right to intervene in Iraq’s affairs or decide what Iraqis should do.”

  US Poised to Strike Another Blow  

The Leader said the key to Iraq’s success against terrorists and their backers was “unity” among ethnic groups and the Iraqi government’s support for “brave and faithful” popular forces.

“The Americans created Daesh themselves, but now that the terrorists have been defeated by the Iraqi people and government, they pretend to be supportive of this important development,” Ayatollah Khamenei said, using an Arabic acronym for IS.

“However, they will undoubtedly strike another blow to Iraq whenever they see the opportunity,” he said.

Describing Iraq as a country that plays a “crucial” role in the Arab world, Ayatollah Khamenei expressed support for expansion of Tehran-Baghdad ties in various fields.

The Iraqi premier expressed gratitude to Iran for lending a helping hand to the Iraqi forces in its anti-terror drive, saying his government will “eagerly” strive for closer relations with Tehran. Referring to the Iraqi Kurdistan Regional Government’s secession push, Abadi said the Iraqi government and nation will work hard to safeguard the country’s unity and territorial integrity.

“As we have already told our brothers in the [Kurdistan] region, we will not allow the danger of disintegration to put our country at risk,” he said.

KRG held an independence referendum last month that was rejected as illegal by the international community and drew strong criticism from Iraq’s neighbors.

On Thursday, Abadi rejected a KRG offer to “freeze” the referendum to allow negotiations with Baghdad, saying his government will only accept a full cancellation of the Kurdish independence vote.

Before arriving in Tehran, Abadi was in Turkey on Wednesday to discuss bilateral relations and possible steps against the Iraqi Kurdish leaders.

  Readiness to Help Iraq’s Reconstruction

Later on Thursday, Abadi sat down for talks with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani.

Speaking in the meeting, Rouhani said he is pleased to see the Iraqi people have managed to overcome the huge challenge of terrorism, saying improved security in Iraq will boost stability in Iran and the region. Rouhani said Iran is ready to do its best to assist Baghdad in its reconstruction efforts and undertake development projects in Iraq.

The Iranian president said close friendship between Tehran and Baghdad can greatly help boost cooperation in the Middle East, and bridge widening chasms that benefit nobody. Rouhani was apparently referring to strained relations between Iran and Saudi Arabia, which became even worse when King Salman came to power in 2015.

Abadi said regional states should work together to stop the spread of terrorism in the region.

“We should move toward defusing tensions and promoting cooperation among regional countries,” he said, adding that divisions in the region will allow outsiders to interfere in the affairs of regional countries.

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