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Iraq summons Saudi envoy over comments

BAGHDAD, Jan 24, (Agencies): The Iraqi foreign ministry said on Sunday it had summoned the Saudi ambassador over comments he made to the media a day earlier regarding Iranianbacked Shi’ite Muslim militias in Iraq. “This constitutes … a breach of diplomatic protocol and is based on inaccurate information,” the ministry said in a statement about Saudi envoy Thamer al-Sabhan’s remarks, in which he said the Hashid Shaabi militia should leave the fight against Islamic State militants to the Iraqi army and official security forces in order to avoid aggravating sectarian tensions. “The Hashid Shaabi are fighting terrorism and defending the country’s sovereignty and acting under the umbrella and command of the commander-inchief of the armed forces,” the statement said, referring to the coalition of mainly Shi’ite paramilitary groups.

Iraqi Shiite lawmakers responded angrily Sunday to the Saudi ambassador’s criticism of militia forces in the country, with some calling for his expulsion less than a month after he arrived. Thamer al-Sabhan is the first Baghdad- based Saudi ambassador in a quarter century, but while full diplomatic relations are restored, many Iraqi Shiites view Riyadh as a supporter of jihadist groups and an enemy of their community. Iraq turned to Shiite militia forces in 2014 to help counter the Islamic State jihadist group’s onslaught, which had overrun large areas north and west of Baghdad.

While they have been a key part of the anti-IS fight and are widely supported by Iraqi Shiites, many members of the Sunni Arab and Kurdish minorities view at least some of the Hashed al-Shaabi’s main forces as hostile. “The remarks of the Saudi ambassador indicate clear hostility and blatant interference in Iraqi affairs (and) his talking about the Hashed al-Shaabi in this way is considered a major insult,” Khalaf Abdulsamad, the head of the Dawa parliamentary list, said in a statement.

Meanwhile, Baghdad wants the coalition engaged in the fight against the Islamic State group to train Iraqi police officers, a senior US official said. The request comes as the anti-IS partners are preparing to boost their support in the battle against the jihadists launched in August 2014. “The Iraqis very much would like more help with the training of the local police force,” a senior US official said, speaking on condition of anonymity. “They think it’s made a significant difference in Ramadi,” the Iraqi city retaken from IS after a fierce battle, “and they want to see it duplicated.” Senior US defense officials will meet in Brussels on Feb 11 with defense ministers from 26 nations that are part of the US-led coalition, as well as Iraqi representatives, to see what additional contributions countries can deliver.

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