Rex Tillerson woos Gulf allies in push to undercut Iran

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DOHA: Top US diplomat Rex Tillerson pursued efforts to curb Tehran’s influence in talks with his country’s Gulf allies Sunday, demanding that Iran pare down its involvement in Iraq as the fight against the Islamic State group draws to a close. Tillerson’s visit to the Gulf, his third as secretary of state, also aims at persuading Qatar and a rival Saudi led-alliance to open the door to dialogue a goal he said had come to a deadlock Sunday. But it is the question of Iranian influence in the region including in Iraq and Qatar that is at the centre of his visit to Riyadh and Doha, just weeks after US President Donald Trump refused to certify the Iran nuclear deal and declared an aggressive new strategy against Tehran. The US secretary of state appears focused on boosting Sunni-ruled Saudi Arabia’s clout in Iraq, where Shiite forces backed by Tehran are fighting in the north, as part of a wider regional battle for influence that extends from Syria to Yemen. “Certainly Iranian militias that are in Iraq, now that the fighting against (the Islamic State group) is coming to a close, those militias need to go home,” Tillerson said at a press conference in Riyadh. “All foreign fighters need to go home.” The Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF) powerful paramilitary units dominated by Iranian-trained Shiite militias have been part of the fight against IS and continue to battle different factions in Iraq. But Tillerson’s remarks were also aimed at Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) and their foreign operations wing, the Quds Force, according to a senior US official. “The position of the Iraqi government and the position of our government is that there should be a single Iraqi security force answerable to the Iraqi state,” the official said on condition of anonymity. “What happens to the PMFs is they go home or they integrate into the Iraqi security forces.” Iran quickly hit back, saying it had played a crucial role in the fight against IS. “If it wasn’t for the sacrifices of the Islamic Republic of Iran Daesh (IS) would have installed its government in Damascus, Baghdad and (the Iraqi Kurdish regional capital) Arbil by now,” Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said during a visit to South Africa.

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