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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 19 December 2018

Macron calls for dismantling of all Iraqi militias

French president holds talks in Paris with leaders of Iraqi Kurds, who have accused Iran-backed paramilitaries of abuses

French president Emmanuel Macron, right, with the Iraqi Kurdish region's prime minister Nechirvan Barzani and deputy prime minister Qubad Talabani, left, at a press conference at the Elysee Palace following their meeting in Paris on December 2, 2017. Etienne Laurent / Reuters
French president Emmanuel Macron, right, with the Iraqi Kurdish region's prime minister Nechirvan Barzani and deputy prime minister Qubad Talabani, left, at a press conference at the Elysee Palace following their meeting in Paris on December 2, 2017. Etienne Laurent / Reuters

France's president on Saturday called on Iraq to dismantle all militias, including the government-sanctioned and Iran-backed Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF), and for talks to resolve a dispute between Baghdad and the Iraqi Kurdish region.

Emmanuel Macron's call followed talks in Paris with the Kurdistan Regional Government's prime minister Nechirvan Barzani and his deputy, Qubad Talabani.

"It is essential that there is a gradual demilitarisation, in particular of the Popular Mobilisation that established itself in the last few years in Iraq, and that all militias be gradually dismantled," Mr Macron said at a news conference held with the Kurdish leaders.

Iraqi Kurdish authorities accuse the majority Shiite PMF of widespread abuses against Kurds in ethnically-mixed regions of Iraq.

Mr Macron called for dialogue in Iraq between the central government in Baghdad and the semi-autonomous KRG within the framework of the Iraqi constitution, saying he was convinced a "constructive dialogue" could lead to lifting Baghdad's restrictions on the Kurdish region.

Kurds voted overwhelmingly to break away from Iraq in an independence referendum held on September 25, defying the central government in Baghdad and alarming neighbouring Turkey and Iran who have their own Kurdish minorities.

The Iraqi government responded by seizing the Kurdish-held city of Kirkuk and other territory disputed between the Kurds and the central government. It also banned direct flights to Kurdistan and demanded control over border crossings.

Long-serving Kurdish president Masoud Barzani stepped down over the affair and the regional government led by his nephew Nechirvan has tried to negotiate an end to the confrontation.

The Kurdish prime minister said he saw France playing a role to end the dispute with Baghdad and that his government respected the Iraqi supreme federal court ruling on November 20 that referendum was unconstitutional and its results void.

"With regards to the referendum, we are in a new era, and this issue is over and we have made our position in the Kurdistan Regional Government clear," Rudaw, an Erbil-based broadcaster close to the KRG, quoted Mr Barzani as saying.

Mr Macron called for the long-delayed implementation of Article 140 of the Iraqi constitution to settle the status of territories disputed between Baghdad and the Kurds.

Article 140 provided for a referendum to be held by the end of 2007 in the oil region of Kirkuk and other territories claimed by both the KRG and the Iraqi government to determine whether their populations wanted to be part of the Kurdish region or not.

No such referendum took place, among the reasons cited by the KRG to unilaterally hold its referendum on independence.

Kurds say they formed a majority in these areas until the 1970s, when a campaign to uproot them and replace them by Arabs was carried out by Saddam Hussein's government.

The 2003 US-led invasion that toppled Saddam paved the way for the Kurds to return to these regions.