RIYADH: Top US diplomat Rex Tillerson pursued efforts to curb Tehran's influence in talks with his country's Gulf allies Sunday, demanding that Iran pare down its involvement in Iraq as the fight against the Daesh group draws to a close.
The question of Iranian influence in the region —including in Iraq and Qatar — is at the centre of Tillerson's visit to Riyadh and Doha, which comes just weeks after US President Donald Trump refused to certify the Iran nuclear deal and declared an aggressive new strategy against Tehran.
The US secretary of state appears focused on boosting Saudi Arabia 's clout in Iraq, where forces backed by Tehran are fighting in the north, as part of a wider regional battle for influence that extends from Syria to Yemen.
"Certainly Iranian militias that are in Iraq, now that the fighting [against Daesh] is coming to a close, those militias need to go home," Tillerson said at a press conference in Riyadh.
"All foreign fighters need to go home."
The Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF) — powerful paramilitary units dominated by Iranian-trained militias — have been part of the fight against Daesh and continue to battle different factions in Iraq.
But Tillerson's remarks were also aimed at Iran 's elite Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) and their foreign operations wing, the Quds Force, according to a senior US official.
"The position of the Iraqi government and the position of our government is that there should be a single Iraqi security force answerable to the Iraqi state," the official said on condition of anonymity.
"What happens to the PMFs is they go home or they integrate into the Iraqi security forces."
Tillerson sat in on the first meeting of a joint Saudi-Iraqi coordination council in Riyadh Sunday, which Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi hailed as an "important step toward enhancing relations".
Saudi Arabia cut ties with Iraq in 1990 following Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait, but Riyadh and Baghdad have rekindled diplomatic and commercial relations this year.