Speaking at a rare joint meeting with the leaders of Iraq and Saudi Arabia, United States Secretary of State Rex Tillerson it was time for Iranian-backed militias and their Iranian advisers in Iraq who were there to fight ISIS to “go home”.
According to Reuters, the US is concerned that Iran will take advantage of gains against ISIS there and in Syria to expand the influence it gained after the US invasion in 2003.
“Iranian militias that are in Iraq, now that the fight against ISIS is coming to a close, those militias need to go home. The foreign fighters in Iraq need to go home and allow the Iraqi people to regain control,” Tillerson said at a joint news conference with Saudi foreign minister Adel Jubeir.
Tens of thousands of Iraqis took arms in 2014 after terror group ISIS seized a third of the country’s territory, forming the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) which receive funding and training from Tehran and have been declared part of the Iraqi security apparatus.
A senior US official said Tillerson had been referring to the PMF and the Quds Force, the foreign paramilitary and espionage arm of the powerful Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC).
Iraq’s military, armed by the United States but supported by the PMF, ejected the ultra-hardline militant group from Mosul and other cities in northern Iraq this year. Several thousand US troops are still in the country, mostly for training but also to carry out raids against ISIS.
The campaign to uproot the militants left whole cities in ruins and has hit Iraq’s economy.
A new joint body between Iraq and Saudi Arabia convened an inaugural meeting earlier on Sunday to coordinate their fight against ISIS and on rebuilding Iraqi territory wrested from the group.
Jubeir emphasized historic ties between the two neighbors, which share a border, vast oil resources and many of the same tribes.
“The natural tendency of the two counties and people is to be very close to each other as they have been for centuries. It was interrupted for a number of decades. We’re trying now to make up for lost ground,” he said.