Tillerson demands Iranian militias leave Iraq
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Tillerson demands Iranian militias leave Iraq

US secretary of state says that as fighting against Islamic State winds down, Iran-backed forces must pull out

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson listens through his earpiece to a speech translation during a meeting of the Saudi-Iraqi Bilateral Coordination Council in the capital Riyadh, October 22, 2017. (AFP/Alex Brandon)
US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson listens through his earpiece to a speech translation during a meeting of the Saudi-Iraqi Bilateral Coordination Council in the capital Riyadh, October 22, 2017. (AFP/Alex Brandon)

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Sunday demanded that Iranian “militias” leave Iraq at a press conference in Riyadh, where the US diplomat is holding talks with top Gulf officials.

Shortly before leaving Riyadh for Doha, Qatar, Tillerson told reporters that an independent and prosperous Iraq would be a foil to Iran’s “malign behavior.”

“We believe this will in some ways counter some of the unproductive influences of Iran inside of Iraq,” he said at a news conference with Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir after participating in the inaugural meeting of the Saudi Arabia-Iraq Coordination Council with Saudi King Salman and Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi. Referring to Shiite militia in Iraq that are backed by Iran he said: “Those fighters need to go home. Any foreign fighters need to go home.”

Tillerson said countries outside of the region could also play a role, primarily by shunning the powerful Revolutionary Guards, which play a major role in Iran’s economy and were added to a US terrorism blacklist earlier this month. Companies and countries that do business with the guards “really do so at great risk,” he said.

“We are hoping that European companies, countries and others around the world will join the US as we put in place a sanctions structure to prohibit certain activities of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard that foment instability in the region and create destruction in the region,” Tillerson said.

Earlier, at the coordination council meeting, Tillerson told the Saudi king and Abadi that the event highlighted the improving ties between the longtime rivals and showed “the great potential” for further cooperation. He noted the August reopening of a major border crossing and the resumption of direct flights between Riyadh and Baghdad.

“Both represent the beginning of what we hope will be a series of even more tangible actions to improve relations and strengthen cooperation on a host of issues,” he said. “Your growing relationship between the kingdom and Iraq is vital to bolstering our collective security and prosperity and we take great interest in it.”

His participation in the meeting comes as US officials step up encouragement of a new axis that unites Saudi Arabia and Iraq as a bulwark against Iran’s growing influence from the Persian Gulf to the Mediterranean Sea. Amid the push for that alliance, the Iraqi government is struggling to rebuild recently liberated Islamic State strongholds and confronts a newly assertive Kurdish independence movement.

Tillerson’s visit also followed US President Donald Trump’s announcement of an aggressive strategy against Tehran and his refusal to certify the Iran nuclear deal.

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