Iraq clashes with Iran

As fighting in Iraq raged last summer, Iranian Major-General Qassem Soleimani came across unexpected opposition to his plans to defeat Islamic State. Soleimani is the commander of Iran’s al-Quds brigade and has been a key figure in the fight against the Sunni Islamist group in Iraq. That fight has been led not by Iraq’s army but by Iranian-backed Shi’ite militias. But in August, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi told Soleimani that a planned assault on the Sunni city of Ramadi should be left to the Iraqi army, according to a government official and two diplomats. Abadi, a 64-year-old Shi’ite, wanted the militias to stay away to avoid inflaming ethnic tensions, the sources said. Abadi’s office declined to comment on the story, which has been repeated in Baghdad’s diplomatic circles for months. Three Iraqi politicians denied it ever happened. But the government official and the diplomats said the incident was one of a series of moves by Abadi to assert his authority as leader and to distance himself from Tehran and the militias that came to Baghdad’s rescue in 2014 and early 2015. Abadi has begun to push for reconciliation between Iraq’s Shi’ites and Sunnis, and for better relations with Sunni Arab neighbors like Saudi Arabia, they said.

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