Iraq PM says he 'won't allow any aggression' against Iran to come from Iraqi soil
Iraq's prime minister has said Baghdad would not allow any aggression to be carried out against Iran from Iraqi territory, during his first official to Tehran since becoming leader.
Speaking at a news conference alongside Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, Mustafa al-Kadhimi alluded to Iraq's concern not to become a battlefield between arch-enemies Iran and the United States.
Kadhimi, who took office in May, has faced increased pressure from Iran-aligned parties and militia groups who perceive him as siding with Washington.
"The people of Iraq want good relations with the Islamic Republic of Iran based on the principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of both countries," he said at the conference, which was broadcast live by Iranian state television.
"Iraq is a country that won't allow any aggression or challenge to Iran from its territory."
Rouhani called the visit a "turning point" in the countries' relations and vowed to continue supporting the neighbouring country.
Balancing regional rivalries
Kadhimi has a vested interest in preserving his relationships with both Washington and Tehran, as the US is a major world ally, while Iran, as the second-largest exporter of consumer goods to Iraq, plays a significant role in the Iraqi economy.
Kadhimi's meeting with Rouhani was followed by a meeting with Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, who praised Iraq's Popular Mobilisation Forces, the government-controlled umbrella group encompassing all of Iraq's militias, many of which are backed by Iran.
Following the meeting, Khamenei, in posts to his unverified but official Twitter account, also said that Iran would not attempt to interfere in relations between Iraq and the US.
"Iran has never and never will have any intention to meddle in Iraq's affairs. Iran seeks a dignified, independent Iraq with its territorial integrity and internal unity and cohesion protected," he said in a series of posts.
"Iran doesn't interfere in Iraq-US relations but expects Iraqi friends to know that the US presence in any country brings corruption and destruction. Iran expects the decision of the Iraqi govt, nation and parliament to expel the US to be pursued because US presence causes insecurity," he continued.
The supreme leader also promised that Tehran "will definitely strike a reciprocal blow to the US" for the killing of top Iranian general Qassem Soleimani at an airport in Baghdad in January.
Tuesday's meetings came days after Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif met in Baghdad with top Iraqi officials, including Kadhimi.
During his visit, Zarif made a stop at the site of the deadly Soleimani drone attack, which brought the region to the brink of a full-blown US-Iran conflict before both sides stepped back.
On Monday, the Iraqi president was scheduled to travel to Saudi Arabia for talks, but the visit was postponed after King Salman was hospitalised.