PARIS/BAGHDAD (Reuters) – French President Emmanuel Macron on Saturday called on Iraq to dismantle all militias, including the government-sanctioned, Iran-backed Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF), a rare public call to do so by a major Western leader.
Macron’s call, which followed a meeting with Iraqi Kurdish leaders in Paris, underscores the tough balancing act Baghdad has to perform between its allies in the war on Islamic State, Iran and Western powers, which do not see eye to eye.
“It is essential that there is a gradual demilitarization, in particular of the Popular Mobilisation that established itself in the last few years in Iraq, and that all militias be gradually dismantled,” he told a joint news conference held with Iraqi Kurdish leaders.
Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) authorities accuse the majority Arab Shi‘ite PMF of widespread abuses against Kurds in Iraq’s ethnically mixed regions.
Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi’s government denies that the PMF are engaged in a systematic pattern of abuses and has pledged to punish anyone proven guilty of violations.
Disarming the PMF is seen as Abadi’s most difficult test as his forces edge closer to declaring victory over Islamic State.
Spokesmen for Abadi and the Badr Organisation, largest group in the PMF, could not be reached for comment.
Macron’s meeting with KRG Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani and his deputy Qubad Talabani was the first high-profile international meeting for the Kurdish leadership after a Sept. 25 independence referendum.
U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and British Prime Minister Theresa May have both made trips to Iraq after the referendum but only met officials in Baghdad and made no visits to the KRG capital Erbil.
Western powers had encouraged the Kurds not to hold the referendum and instead engage in dialogue with Baghdad.
Macron again called for dialogue between the central government in Baghdad and the semi-autonomous KRG within the framework of the Iraqi constitution, saying he was convinced a “constructive dialogue” could…