March 30, 2017 / 4:37 PM / 2 years ago

U.N. chief presses Iraq's leaders to reconcile once Mosul won

United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres shakes hands with Iraq's Kurdistan region's President Masoud Barzani during his visit at Erbil International Airport, Iraq March 30, 2017. REUTERS/Azad Lashkari

BAGHDAD (Reuters) - United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres on Thursday urged Iraq’s leaders to reconcile the country’s religious communities once Islamic State is defeated in Mosul, the last major Iraqi city under the militants’ control.

Guterres, who met Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, made his trip as aid agencies struggle to cope with an exodus of residents from Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city. He said protecting civilians was an “absolute priority”.

He called on Iraq’s leaders to build “a State in which all communities respect each other and reconciliation becomes something natural”, according to a U.N. statement.

Iraq’s Sunni Arabs resent the control of the Shi’ite majority over state bodies including the military, established after the U.S.-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein in 2003.

Meanwhile, the Kurds, who backed that invasion, are in conflict with the Shi’ite-led government over land and oil resources.

Islamic State overran about a third of Iraq in 2014, benefiting from the Sunni-Shi’ite rift that weakened the army.

Iraqi forces have won back control of most cities that fell to the ultra-hardline Sunni group, and have been battling to recapture Mosul since October, with the backing of a U.S.-led coalition.The militants have been dislodged from nearly three quarters of the city but they remain in control of the densely populated old center.

Reporting by Maher Chmaytelli; editing by Richard Lough

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