BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi said on a visit to Tehran on Tuesday that Iraq would not allow any threat to Iran coming from its territory.
Speaking at a news conference alongside Iranian President Hassan Rouhani ahead of a meeting with Iran’s Supreme Leader, Kadhimi alluded to Iraq’s concern not to become a battlefield between arch-enemies Iran and the United States.
The Iraqi premier faces a tough balancing act between Tehran and Washington which have come close to open conflict in the region, particularly on Iraqi soil, over the past year.
At home, Kadhimi faces increasing pressure from Iran-aligned parties and paramilitary groups who perceive him as siding with the United States because he has indicated he wants to curb the power of Iranian-backed militias and political groups.
“The people of Iraq want good relations with the Islamic Republic of Iran based on the principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of both countries,” he told the news conference, carried live by Iranian state television.
“Iraq is a country that won’t allow any aggression or challenge to Iran from its territory,” said Kadhimi.
In his first two months in office, Iraqi security forces carried out two arrest raids against militias but most of those detained were quickly released.
The United States praised those moves and supporters welcome several appointments Kadhimi has made in the security forces, including reinstating Iraq’s Counter Terrorism Service chief Abdul Wahhab al-Saidi, whose dismissal under the previous government fuelled mass anti-government unrest last year.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif visited Baghdad on Sunday, making a stop at the site where a U.S. drone strike killed Iranian military mastermind Qassem Soleimani and Iraq’s paramilitary chief Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis in January.
That action brought the region to the brink of a full-blown U.S.-Iran conflict, before both sides stepped back.
Rouhani said Iran and Iraq hoped to boost bilateral trade to $20 billion yearly.
Kadhimi’s visit, his first foreign trip since taking office in May, was meant to come after a trip to Saudi Arabia but that was cancelled after the Saudi king was admitted to hospital suffering from inflammation of the gall bladder.
Reporting by Amina Ismail in Cairo, John Davison in Baghdad and Babak Dehghanpisheh in Geneva; Editing by Mark Heinrich
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