Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 19 May 2019

Iraq calls on US to stop meddling in its internal affairs

A spokesman for the foreign ministry said that Washington violated diplomatic norms by calling on Iran to disband Shiite militias in Iraq

Iraqi Popular Mobilization Forces march as they hold their flag and posters of Iraqi and Iranian Shiites spiritual leaders during "al-Quds" or Jerusalem Day, in Baghdad, Iraq. AP 
Iraqi Popular Mobilization Forces march as they hold their flag and posters of Iraqi and Iranian Shiites spiritual leaders during "al-Quds" or Jerusalem Day, in Baghdad, Iraq. AP 

Iraq has called on Washington to stop meddling in it's internal affairs after the US Department of State said Iran must respect Baghdad's sovereignty and disarm Shiite militias that operate in the country.

The department last week published 12 requirements for Iran to behave like a "normal state" before new sanctions on Iran's oil and financial sector would take effect on Monday. The demands, published on Twitter, include calls for Tehran to demobilize and end support for it's proxy forces in Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Palestine and Lebanon.

The far-reaching demands were translated into Arabic and shared on the US embassy in Baghdad's Twitter page, drawing criticism from Iraqi officials.

"Iraq's foreign ministry rejects the embassy's statement. It is seen as an interference in Iraq's internal affairs," foreign ministry spokesman, Ahmed Mahjoob, told The National on Sunday.

Mr Mahjoob said the statement violated diplomatic norms and disregarded Iraq's sovereignty.

Both Tehran and Washington have competed for influence in Iraq since the 2003 US invasion that toppled former dictator Saddam Hussein. In an interview with The National last week, Brett McGurk, the US envoy for the global coalition to defeat ISIS, said that Washington wanted to help Iraqi's strengthen their country's sovereignty and independence.

"That is the objective for the new government and we look forward to do all we can to help them in that regard," Mr McGurk said.

The Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), a controversial organization that consists of around 50 predominantly-Shiite paramilitary groups, including factions linked to Iran, were formed in 2014 after Ayatollah Ali Al Sistani, Iraq's top Shiite cleric, urged citizens to take up arms against ISIS.

The PMF provided instrumental support to the Iraqi army and security forces in the many battles against ISIS since the militants overran large areas of the country in 2014. This critical auxiliary role awarded them semi-official status as an an independent military formation that is part of the Iraqi armed forces. However, the Iraqi government has so far failed to bring them under complete state control, even after the defeat of ISIS in December.

A sizable portion of the country's Shiite majority view the PMF as the primary bulwark against radical militant groups, making the task of disarming the militias one of the biggest challenges facing newly appointed Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi.

However, many in the country, including Shiite followers of the powerful cleric Moqtada Al Sadr, see the PMF as an instrument of Tehran's regional ambitions.

Washington has continuously called on Iran to end it's support for the PMF especially as sanctions approach.

"Here’s a reminder about the second requirement for the Islamic Republic of Iran to behave like a normal state: The Iranian regime must end the IRGC-Qods Force’s support for terrorists and militant partners," the State Department said in a tweet on Saturday.

Updated: November 4, 2018 05:28 PM