The Iraqi prime minister’s media office on Monday criticized recent comments by U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in which the latter called on the Shia Hashd al-Shaabi -- which is perceived by some to be loyal to Tehran -- to leave Iraq.
On Sunday, Tillerson, who is currently on a visit to Saudi Arabia, said Iran-backed factions fighting against Daesh in Iraq should go “home” -- presumably a reference to Shia Iran -- in light of the terrorist group’s dwindling presence in the country.
In a statement issued in response to Tillerson’s assertions, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider
Hashd fighters, the statement went on, took their orders directly from the Iraqi leadership, in line with Iraqi law.
“No one has the right to interfere in Iraq’s internal affairs or decide what Iraqis should do,” the statement read.
“Fighting on the ground is being done by Iraqis,” it added. “Foreign fighting groups have no presence in the country.”
“[U.S.-led] international coalition forces maintain limited numbers in Iraq… for the purposes of training, logistics and air support -- not to fight on the ground,” the PM’s press office said.
Hashd al-Shaabi chief Karim al-Nouri, for his part, told Anadolu Agency that all the group’s activities “are subject to the orders of the [Iraqi army’s] Joint Operations Command and decisions issued by Armed Forces Commander-in-Chief [PM] Haider al-Abadi”.
Al-Nouri went on to stress that the Hashd al-Shaabi’s participation in recent anti-Daesh operations, “whether in Mosul, Saladin or Anbar province,
A largely Shia fighting force, the Hashd al-Shaabi was officially incorporated into the Iraqi Armed Forces last year.
Recent months have seen Hashd fighters fight alongside the Iraqi army in several successful anti-Daesh campaigns, including the recapture earlier this year of the city of Mosul and the Tal Afar district.
The Hashd al-Shaabi also recently took part in Iraqi army operations in the northern Kirkuk province and in other parts of the country disputed between Baghdad and northern Iraq’s Kurdish Regional Government.
Reporting by Aref Yusuf and Ali