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World

Obama: Iranian-Backed Fighters Must Respect Iraq's Sovereignty

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

President Obama delivered a warning to Iran yesterday over the fight against ISIS. He said Shiite fighters backed by Iran and now battling ISIS militants in Iraq must respect Iraqi sovereignty. Those remarks came after a White House meeting with Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi. Here's NPR's Mara Liasson.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: President Obama said it was understandable that Iraq and its neighbor Iran - both Shia majority countries - would cooperate in the fight against ISIS. But Mr. Obama said any foreign assistance must be under the unified control of the Iraqi government.

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PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: It needs to be help that is not simply coordinated with the Iraqi government but ultimately is answerable to the Iraqi government and is funneled through the chain of command.

LIASSON: That's what the U.S. is doing, said the president, in order to respect Iraq's sovereignty but also to avoid the impression that the U.S. is moving back into Iraq. There are now about 3,000 American troops in Iraq training and advising Iraqi and Kurdish forces. The president said unified control will also help the Iraq government avoid abuses by Shiite militias involved in retaking Sunni areas from ISIS.

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OBAMA: If there are criminal acts or sectarian retributions that are carried out - that ultimately Prime Minister Abadi is able to call those forces to account.

LIASSON: Prime Minister Abadi says his government has zero tolerance for the human rights abuses carried out by Shiite militias engaged in fighting ISIS. He said they were carried out by criminals and outliers who are now being captured and prosecuted. The Oval Office meeting with Abadi was a show of support for a leader the White House believes has been more inclusive of all Iraqi ethnic and religious factions. President Obama has offered Iraq $200 million in humanitarian aid but would not say whether he would give the Iraqis the military equipment they seek, such as Apache helicopters or drones. Mara Liasson, NPR News, the White House. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.