By Syed Zafar Mehdi
TEHRAN, Iran (AA) – Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi said on Tuesday the presence of "foreigners" in the region has a "destabilizing effect on regional security", calling for the withdrawal of American forces.
He made the remarks at a joint press conference in Tehran with visiting Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani following delegation-level talks between the two sides.
Raisi termed the newly-elected Iraqi premier's first visit to Tehran as a "turning point" in relations between the two countries, expressing hope for the betterment of bilateral ties.
He described security and stability in the region as a "common concern" for both Tehran and Baghdad, saying the two sides agreed to cooperate on "combating terrorism".
The issue that figured prominently in Tuesday's talks was regional security in the wake of recent strikes by Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) in northern Iraq.
IRGC has carried out a series of drone and missile strikes in recent weeks on what Tehran says positions of terrorist Kurdish groups in northern Iraq’s Kurdish region.
The strikes have prompted strong reactions from the Iraqi government as well as authorities in the country's Kurdish region.
In a statement earlier this month, the Iraqi Foreign Ministry said the strikes in the northern region amounted to a "violation of Iraq's sovereignty".
Iranian authorities have accused anti-Iran Kurdish groups based in northern Iraq of fomenting unrest in the country in the wake of the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini in police custody in mid-September.
Raisi stressed that "security, peace, and stability in the region" are important for both Iran and Iraq, calling for a joint fight against "terrorist groups, organized crime, drug trafficking, and any insecurity that threatens the region".
He expressed hope that the new Iraqi premier's visit to Tehran will provide "effective in resolving issues" between the two countries.
Al-Sudani, for his part, said his government will not allow" any political or military group" to launch attacks on neighboring countries, adding that Baghdad will continue to cooperate with Tehran in the fight against terrorism.
Iran has been rocked by widespread protests in recent months, mostly in the northwestern region bordering Iraq, with authorities in Tehran accusing Kurdish groups in northern Iraq of supplying weapons to "rioters".
Speculation has been rife about the IRGC preparing for a ground offensive against these groups in northern Iraq’s Kurdish region, but so far there is no confirmation.