Iraq’s top Shia cleric has urged Iranian President Hassan Rouhani to respect the Iraqi sovereignty and weapons kept in state hands, referring to the increasingly influence of the Iran-backed militias, Reuters reported.
During the first meeting with Rouhani on Wednesday, Sistani welcomed “any steps to strengthen Iraq’s relations with its neighbours … based on respect for the sovereignty of the countries and no interference in domestic affairs”, a statement from his office said.
“The most important challenges facing Iraq are fighting corruption, improving services and keeping weapons in the hands of the state and its security services,” it added.
Sistani and Rouhani’s meeting came on the third day of the latter’s visit to Iraq, which targeted fostering commercial ties to help offset renewed US sanctions on Tehran.
On Monday, Iraqi officials said several preliminary trade accords were signed indicating deals on oil, health, and a railway linking Basra and an Iranian border town.
Last year, the Iran Militia in Iraq and Syria (IMIS), which played a key role in defeating ISIS in 2017, were brought formally into the security forces. Critics say they have also begun to control parts of the economy, however, the militias deny this, saying they are no longer funded or equipped by Iran and serve only to defend Iraq and its Shi’ite holy sites.