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Obama warns Iran fighters in Iraq must respect its sovereignty

WASHINGTON: U.S. President Barack Obama warned Iran on Tuesday that its fighters must respect Iraq’s sovereignty and report to Baghdad in the region-wide battle against Islamic State militants.

Iran-backed Shi’ite militias have played a major role in battling the Sunni group, an al Qaeda offshoot that emerged from the chaos in Iraq and neighboring Syria.

Obama said he and Iraqi Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi discussed the issue at length in their Oval Office meeting.

He said it was clear that Iraq and Iran would have an important relationship because they shared a border and noted the Shi’ite militias mobilized when Islamic State was surging and the Iraqi government was still getting organized.

“Once Prime Minister Abadi took power … from that point on, any foreign assistance that is helping to defeat ISIL has to go through the Iraqi government. That’s how you respect Iraqi sovereignty,” Obama said.

“It needs to be help that is not simply coordinated with the Iraqi government but ultimately is answerable to the Iraqi government and is funneled through the chain of command.”

Islamic State, also known as ISIL, has targeted Christians and other ethnic and religious minorities since its forces seized much of northern and central Iraq since last year.

Abadi emphasized that Iraq would respect other countries’ sovereignty and expected the same. He said he was eager to bring all of the fighters in Iraq under the state’s control.

Abadi was expected to seek billions of dollars in drones and other U.S. weapons during his visit. White House spokesman Josh Earnest said Abadi did not make a specific request for additional military support during the meeting.

Obama announced $200 million in additional U.S. humanitarian aid to Iraq but declined to say whether Washington would provide Apache helicopters and other arms to Baghdad. (reut.rs/1DZo1xP)

Obama’s administration, which welcomed Abadi’s ascension after a tricky relationship with former Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, may not agree to provide significant additional support.

But the high-profile White House meeting was meant to convey a U.S. stamp of approval for a leader who has sought to be more inclusive of Iraq’s various factions than his predecessor.

Obama, who was elected on the back of a promise to end the war in Iraq, is restricted by public aversion to U.S. entanglement in another regional conflict and congressional constraints on his budget authority.

“The U.S. is not going to be willing to step up in terms of major military support. It’s unclear that the U.S. can budget for major aid,” said Anthony Cordesman, foreign policy expert at the Center for Strategic & International Studies in Washington.

Obama in August authorized the first U.S. air strikes on Iraq since the 2011 American troop withdrawal and has deployed about 3,000 American military forces to train and advise Iraqi and Kurdish forces to fight Islamic State.

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