French President Emmanuel Macron has called on Iraq to dismantle all militias -- including an Iran-backed military force – and for the government in Baghdad to open dialogue to ease tensions with Iraqi Kurdish leaders.
Macron on December 2 told a news conference in Paris that "France calls for a constructive national dialogue to engage in Iraq."
Macron made the comments in a joint news conference with Iraqi Kurdish leaders, including Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani.
The French president added that "it is essential that there is a gradual demilitarization, in particular of the [Tehran-backed Popular Mobilization Forces] that established itself in the last few years in Iraq, and that all militias be gradually dismantled."
Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) leaders have accused the mainly Shi'ite Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) of abuses against Kurds in Iraq’s ethnically mixed regions that are not part of the autonomous region in northern Iraq.
The government of Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has denied that the PMF, which its supports, is engaged in abuses.
Tensions have risen between the KRG and Baghdad after Iraqi Kurds on September 25 held an independence referendum, which Iraqi leaders called illegal.
The United States and other allies also opposed the referendum, saying it endangered unity as the country attempts to battle Islamic State (IS) extremist fighters.
Abadi's office released a statement on December 2 saying he had spoken by phone to Macron, who had affirmed France’s commitment to a unified Iraq but did not mention his call to dismantle the militias.
However, Iraqi Vice President Nuri al-Maliki, a former prime minister, assailed Macron’s comments, saying the French leader was conducting "unacceptable interference" in Iraq's internal affairs.
"These positions from France are absolutely rejected and harm Iraq's sovereignty and its institutions," Maliki said.
With reporting by Reuters and AFP