Iraq will not be bullied by the U.S. State Department. That was the message for Rex Tillerson Monday after the secretary of state suggested Iranian-backed militias should leave Iraq.
Iraqi President Haider al-Abadi issued a terse statement after meeting with America’s top diplomat, reminding him that “no side has the right to intervene in Iraq’s affairs or decide what Iraqis should do.”
Tillerson said Sunday foreign militias fighting as part of the Iraqi state-sponsored Popular Mobilization Force should leave the country now that the battle with ISIS is over.
“Any foreign fighters in Iraq need to go home and allow the Iraqi people to regain control of areas that had been overtaken by ISIS,” Tillerson said during a visit to Saudi Arabia.
Iran’s foreign minister dismissed Tillerson’s comments, saying the militias are “already at home.”
The Asaib Ahl al-Haq militia, part of the Popular Mobilization Force, even suggested it was U.S. forces that should leave Iraq.
“Your forces should get ready to get out of our country once the excuse of Daesh’s presence is over,” their leader, Sheikh Qais al-Khazali, said.
Popular Mobilization is an umbrella organization of mainly Shia Muslim groups, trained and armed by Iran and integrated into the Iraqi military in 2014 after ISIS swept through the country.
Some Iraqi lawmakers see the force as an extension of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps; however, Abadi’s office called them Iraqi patriots who “have sacrificed greatly to defend their country.”
The militias recently fought alongside Iraqi troops in the lightning advance on the oil-rich city of Kirkuk, which they seized from Kurdish forces.
“We are concerned and have been saddened by the recent differences that have emerged between the Kurdistan regional government and the Iraqi central government,” Tillerson told reporters meeting with Abadi.
Tillerson said the U.S. had “friends” on both sides and encouraged “both parties to enter into discussion and dialogue.”