Iraq PM challenges Tillerson on Iran remarks

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BAGHDAD: Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi met top US diplomat Rex Tillerson in Baghdad on Monday, challenging the secretary of state over his comments on Iranian militias in Iraq.
Tillerson, in Riyadh, had called on Iranian militias in Iraq to “go home” as the fight against Daesh was ending. His comments prompted a sharp response from Baghdad.
“The fighters of the Hashed al-Shaabi are Iraqis who have fought terrorism, defended their country and made sacrifices to defeat (IS),” Abadi said, according to a statement from his office.
The 60,000-strong Hashed was formed in 2014 after Daesh seized swathes of northern Iraq, routing government forces.
A coalition mostly made up of Iranian-backed militias, it has played a key role in Iraq’s successful fight against the extremists in the past three years.
The group answers to the prime minister’s office and parliament has voted to integrate it into state forces.
“The Hashed is an institution that depends on the Iraqi state and the constitution does not allow the presence of armed groups outside the law,” Abadi said.
But experts say regular visits to Iraq by Iran’s Major General Qassem Soleimani, commander of its Revolutionary Guards’ foreign arm, the Quds Force, reflect Tehran’s influence in the country.
Iraq’s cabinet on Monday insisted the paramilitary forces that helped it to defeat Daesh were fully Iraqi.

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