Iran and Iraq agree to boost ties in high-level meetings

Iraqi Foreign Minister Fuad Hussein has concluded a two-day diplomatic trip to Tehran, during which he met with top Iranian officials to discuss boosting political and economic ties, and the role of the United States in the region.

On Saturday, Hussein met with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, and parliament Speaker Mohammed Bagher Ghalibaf.

The high-level meetings came after Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in July met with Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi in Tehran during his first trip abroad since taking office in early May after nearly six months of political deadlock.

Rouhani told Hussein that Iran fully supports unity among Shia, Sunni, and Kurdish factions in Iraq and said US troops are a destabilising factor in the region.

“We consider the presence of armed US troops in the region, whether in Iraq, Afghanistan or countries south of the Persian Gulf to be detrimental to security and stability of the region,” he said, according to the president’s website.

It is a responsibility not just for Iran, but for any country with US forces on its soil, to try to end that presence, Rouhani said, adding that Iran supports an Iraqi parliament vote to expel US troops.

In early January, the US assassinated top Iranian general Qassem Soleimani on Iraqi soil, bringing Iran-US tensions to a boiling point.

Soleimani, thought to be the second most powerful man in Iran and a revered figure, was accompanied by Iraqi politician and military commander Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis and a number of other Iranian soldiers when a US drone strike ordered by President Donald Trump hit their convoy in Baghdad.

The unexpected move prompted large protests in Iran and Iraq, and the Iraqi parliament swiftly voted to expel more than 5,000 US troops from the country.

Trump quickly responded by threatening Iraq with sanctions and sending them a bill for billions of dollars for expensive US bases built in the country.

Trump has repeatedly maintained that as part of his promise to disentangle the US from “endless wars”, he plans to withdraw all US troops out of Iraq as soon as possible.

In early September, top US Middle East commander, General Kenneth McKenzie, announced the US will reduce its troops’ presence in Iraq to 3,000 by the end of the month. Remaining forces will continue to assist Iraqi security forces in “rooting out the final remnants” of the ISIL (ISIS) armed group, he said.

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