News ID: 203029
Published: 1217 GMT October 24, 2017

Abadi defends role of PMU at meeting with Tillerson

Abadi defends role of PMU at meeting with Tillerson
US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson (2-L) listens as Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi (C) speaks during their meeting in Baghdad, Iraq, on October 23, 2017.

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi defended the role of a paramilitary force at a meeting with US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Monday in Baghdad.

Tillerson arrived on Monday hours after the Iraqi government rejected his call to send home the Popular Mobilization Units (PMU), a force that helped defeat Daesh and take the Kurdish-held city of Kirkuk, Reuters reported.

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

“Popular Mobilization 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 paramilitary units, which have operated alongside government troops in battles against Daesh terrorists 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 mainly Shia Popular Mobilization as “patriots”.

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

 “Your forces should get ready to get out of our country once the excuse of Daesh’s presence is over,” said Asaib’s leader, Sheikh Qais al-Khazali, according to the group’s TV channel, al-Aahd.

The international battle against Daesh terrorists in northern Iraq since 2014 saw the United States and Iran effectively fighting on the same side, with both supporting the Iraqi government against the terrorists.

According to Reuters, Washington has 5,000 troops in Iraq and provided air support, training and weapons to Iraqi government forces. At the same time, Iran armed, trained and advised Shia paramilitaries that often fought alongside the army.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif dismissed Tillerson’s remarks. The paramilitaries could not go home because “they are at home” already, he was quoted as saying by the state news agency IRNA.

Abadi has asserted his authority with the defeat of Daesh in Mosul and the Iraqi Army’s sweep through Kirkuk and other areas that were held by the Kurds.

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