London- Sunni politicians in Iraq condemned, on Saturday, Iranian General Qassem Soleimani visiting Shi’ite paramilitary forces fighting alongside the Iraqi army to drive ISIS militants out of Fallujah.
Three lawmakers from the province of Anbar told Reuters the visit by Iran’s Quds Force commander could feed into sectarian tension and cast doubt on Baghdad’s declarations on the offensive being an Iraqi-led effort to defeat ISIS, and not to square debts with the Sunnis.
Fallujah, which lies about 50 kilometers west of Baghdad, is a stronghold of the insurgency that fought U.S. occupation of Iraq and the Shi’ite-led authorities that replaced former Iraqi strongman Saddam Hussein, a Sunni.
Iranian media outlets published pictures of a visit by Soleimani to Fallujah and of him meeting with the leaders of the Iraqi coalition of Shi’ite militias known as Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), or Hashid Shaabi. This is the second time Soleimani appears in Iraqi conflict zones.
An Iraqi government spokesman did not confirm Soleimani’s visit and stressed that Iranian advisors are present in Iraq in order to assist in the war on ISIS in the same capacity as those of the U.S.-led anti-ISIS coalitions. However, Member of Parliament (MP) Hamid rejected that.
“We are Iraqis and not Iranians,” he said. “Would Turkish or Saudi advisers be welcomed to assist in the battle?” al-Mutlaq added.
“Soleimani’s presence is suspicious and a cause for concern; he is absolutely not welcome in the area,” said Fallujah parliamentarian Salim Muttar al-Issawi.
“I believe that the presence of such an official from the (Iranian) Revolutionary Guard could have sectarian implications,” said another MP from the city, Liqaa Wardi.
The Association of Muslim Scholars of Iraq, a political organization formed after Saddam’s removal to represent Sunnis, rejected the participation of the Shi’ite militias in the fighting in Fallujah.
“The militias … didn’t come to liberate areas, as they claim, but to carry out their sectarian goals with direct guidance from Iran,” it said in a statement on Friday.
“The presence of Iran’s military advisers in Iraq under the command of General Qassem Soleimani is at the request of the country’s legitimate government in order to fight terrorists,” an Iranian foreign ministry spokesman said, according to Fars news agency.