AFP – Iraq’s president warned Wednesday against pushing the country to choose sides in escalating tensions between neighboring Iran and the US, both allies of Baghdad.
Addressing world leaders at the World Economic forum in Davos, Switzerland, Barham Saleh said a recent parliamentary vote to oust foreign forces from Iraq should not be understood as a sign of “hostility.”
Parliament held the vote two days after a US drone strike near Baghdad airport killed top Iranian general Qasem Soleimani and prompted retaliatory strikes from Tehran on an Iraqi base hosting American and other foreign troops.
The Iraqi president said the vote was “not a sign of ingratitude or hostility,” but a response to a violation of his country’s sovereignty.
“The escalating tensions between Iran, the Gulf states, and the United States over the past month have reminded us that our aspirations remain subject to political disputes beyond our control and to unwelcome foreign interference,” Saleh said.
“It is not in our interest to choose to ally with one side at the expense of others, as long as both respect our sovereignty and independence.”
He added that “no country should seek to dictate to Iraq” the nature of its relationships.
Saleh also hinted that the tensions could derail a rare chance for progress in Iraq after decades of conflict, most recently against the Islamic State group.
“If our neighbours and allies remain at odds, our sovereignty is not respected and our lands are used as a battlefield, then we cannot hope to achieve our own change agenda,” he said.
He condemned acts of violence against the months-long protests movement rocking Baghdad and Iraq’s Shiite-majority south, which has left hundreds dead since October.
Saleh had earlier met with US President Donald Trump on the sidelines of the world summit, hosting a brief press conference but brushing off questions on parliament’s vote.
A source from his office told AFP the leaders had discussed the US drone strike on Baghdad as well as the withdrawal of forces from Iraq.
The source said Trump told Saleh that he “does not want to stay in Iraq” and would draw down forces in an “unprecedented way”, but insisted that any withdrawal must be done in a way that is not insulting or disrespectful to Washington.
Saleh insisted that the US must not restrict Iraq’s access to its oil revenues, which are held in an account at the Federal Reserve in New York.
He also stressed that it was crucial to Iraq that the US renew a waiver allowing Baghdad to buy Iranian much-needed gas despite Washington’s sanctions on Tehran.
The exemption is set to expire in mid-February.