Iraq will not be a military base for a foreign government to attack neighbouring states, the country’s President, Barham Salih, said on Wednesday.
US President Donald Trump infuriated Iraqi politicians last month by saying that an American presence was needed in Iraq to watch Iran. Washington has around 5,200 troops in Iraq at the request of Baghdad government but their mission is to help combat the threat of ISIS.
“Iraq has often served as a conflict arena for neighbouring country’s interests," Mr Salih said during the sixth annual Sulaimani Forum.
Iraq is an ally of both the US and Iran, and its politics are often dominated by efforts to balance relations with the two bitter enemies.
The country should be used to serve as a lead peacemaker in a troubled region, the president said.
“We don’t want to be part of these conflicts. Iraq is still not a very stable country, and putting an extra political burden on it is unacceptable,” he said.
Mr Trump’s comments have raised Iraqi fears that Washington could draw it into conflict with Tehran.
“Do not burden Iraq with your own conflicts,” the president warned.
It has also left US officials such as the acting defines secretary, Patrick Shanahan, and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo rushing to reassure Iraqi officials that Washington does indeed respect Iraqi sovereignty.
“Everyone must respect Iraq’s sovereignty,” Mr Salih said during a panel talk at The American University of Iraq.
Mr Salih said that US troop must stick to their anti-ISIS mission.
“The victory we achieved against ISIS is important but we must not underestimate the dangers that ISIS still pose. We achieved a military victory and ended the Caliphate but ISIS pockets remain,” Mr Salih warned.
Iraq declared victory against the militant group in December 2017 after driving out enemy fighters from the large areas of Iraq they took in 2014.
But the terror group continues to carry out sporadic attacks around the country.
The president added that Iraq was about to undergo major economic transformations, and will begin to emerge from crises," referring to "progress in the field of security and economy and relative political calm."
“From Basra to Baghdad to Sulaymaniyah, Iraqis share the same ambition to live a dignified life with a good government that provides basic services, operates with transparency,” Mr Salih said.
On the issue of the political deadlock that parliament has been facing for the last six months, Mr Salih said he expects to be able to appoint the final ministers to complete his cabinet within a week or two.
The five remaining posts include interior and defence, seen as the most vital positions, are yet to be confirmed.
Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi was sworn in last October but has governed without a full cabinet after parliament approved just 14 of 22 ministerial appointments.
From years, Iraq has been suffering a lack of good government, public services and facing rampant corruption.
“Corruption is the economy of violence, if we can’t end corruption we can’t end violence. It hasn’t been addressed institutionally,” Mr Salih stressed
Iraq is ranked among the world’s most corrupt countries.
“If we cannot eradicate corruption it will destroy this state,” the president said, adding that no country has gone through what Iraq has endured during the last four decades.
Meanwhile, on a separate panel, the UN Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Iraq, Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert said, that corruption is pervasive in all levels in Iraq.
"Only two countries in the world are more corrupt than Iraq," she told the audience, adding that donors are getting tired of fighting the system to help the country.
Ms Hennis-Plasschaert stressed that political, community and religious leaders should play a central role to build tolerance and to counter extremism.
“The key to national recovery and progress is through building public trust and social cohesion,” she said.
The Sulaimani forum is expected to discuss regional conflict dynamics and their resolution with various policymakers and experts.