In Iran, Iraq PM Abadi says Islamic State threatens region

Iran's First Vice President Eshaq Jahangiri (left) welcoming Iraqi Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi (right) at Saadabad Palace in Tehran on Oct 21, 2014. Iraqi Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi said Tuesday his country was at war with "terrorists" th
Iran's First Vice President Eshaq Jahangiri (left) welcoming Iraqi Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi (right) at Saadabad Palace in Tehran on Oct 21, 2014. Iraqi Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi said Tuesday his country was at war with "terrorists" threatening the region and intent on dividing Muslims, as he met top officials in key ally Iran. -- PHOTO: AFP/IRANIAN PRESIDENCY WEBSITE

TEHERAN (AFP) - Iraqi Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi said Tuesday his country was at war with "terrorists" threatening the region and intent on dividing Muslims, as he met top officials in key ally Iran.

As mainly Shi'ite neighbours, Iran and Iraq have been close since the ouster of Sunni dictator Saddam Hussein in the US-led invasion of 2003, with Teheran's role becoming increasingly open in recent years.

The relationship has deepened militarily after the rapid offensive by Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) fighters from Syria deep into Iraq this summer, which continues to pose a major threat to Baghdad.

Abadi, from Iraq's Shi'ite majority, met President Hassan Rouhani and Vice President Eshaq Jahangiri during the one-day visit.

"Iraq is not fighting terrorism only. It is an extensive war with all these groups," he said, alluding to ISIS and other extremist fighters such as Al-Qaeda's Syria affiliate Al-Nusra Front.

"It's a threat to the region and these terrorist groups are trying to create a division between Shi'ites and Sunnis," the official IRNA news agency quoted him as saying.

Before the visit Abadi ruled out a foreign troop intervention against ISIS and appeared to impose limits on Iran's participation also, saying in the holy Shi'ite city of Najaf on Monday that "no regional power will fight here."

The lightning surge by ISIS fighters in June led Iran to send weapons to Kurdish forces in northern Iraq and the Islamic republic has also sent military advisers across the border.

The visit was Abadi's first to Teheran since taking over from Nuri al-Maliki. The latter failed to win a new term after this summer's ISIS offensive brought the country close to collapse.

Iran had resolutely backed Maliki since he took office in Baghdad in 2006, but lost faith in him after the capitulation of the Iraqi military in the face of only a few thousand IS jihadists.

Abadi arrived in Teheran just before midnight. He was later greeted by Jahangiri at Saadabad Palace, a former residence of the Shah turned government office and museum.

The military campaign against ISIS, which now encompasses US and other foreign air strikes in Iraq and neighbouring Syria, will dominate his visit to Iran, though economic matters were also discussed during the meeting with Jahangiri, according to IRNA.

Iran has ruled out direct cooperation with the US military in Iraq, but implicitly backed the air strikes before later saying that they were not enough to stop an ISIS push that has reached Baghdad's outskirts.

Some Iraqi officials and Sunni tribal leaders in areas most affected by the unrest have argued that the world should step up its military involvement from air strikes to a ground intervention against ISIS.

However, Abadi said the Iraqi government would not countenance such a plan.

"I am telling our brothers in Anbar and Salaheddin (Sunni majority provinces) who asked for foreign ground troops that such an appeal should not be made," he said in Najaf.

"We don't need foreign combat troops. And there is no country in the world which would be willing to fight here and give you back your land even if they were asked to."

The Iraqi prime minister had just met with Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, a reclusive Iranian-born cleric who is the highest Shi'ite religious authority in the country.

Iraqi state television said it was the first time in four years that Sistani had met a high-ranking Iraqi government official.