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Iraq PM: Iran aid welcome but must respect sovereignty

Haider al-Abadi says he had received assurances that a number of F16 planes would be delivered to Iraq on time
Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi speaks (CSIS) in Washington, DC, on 16 April, 2015 (AFP)

Iraq's Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi on Thursday welcomed Iran's assistance in the fight against Islamic State (IS) militants, but warned Tehran to respect Baghdad's sovereignty.

"Everything must be done through the government of Iraq," Abadi told an audience of US policy experts at a Washington think tank on his first trip to the United States as prime minister.

"We welcome the Iranian government's support for us," Abadi added, on the third day of a visit aimed at shoring up US support for his fledgling government as it battles IS.

Washington says Iranian officers provided advice and artillery to Shiite militias involved in the operation to retake the city of Tikrit from IS group in recent weeks.

Asked about the presence in Iraq of Qassem Suleimani, commander of the Quds force, the foreign operations arm of Iran's Revolutionary Guards, Abadi stressed: "Iraqis were sacrificing to get their country."

To say that "others are doing this on behalf of Iraqis, Iraqis wouldn't accept that," Abadi said.

"I very much distaste what's been happening. I've been talking to the Iranians about it," he insisted.

"The state must be there, people must believe that democracy works."

The Iraqi prime minister met Tuesday with US President Barack Obama, having said he intended to ask for a "marked increase" in heavy weapons for his forces to repel IS, which has captured a swathe of territory in Iraq and Syria.

Speaking at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, Abadi denied however that he had come to Washington with a shopping list of weapons. 

But he said he had received assurances that a number of F16 planes would be delivered on time.

Abadi also said two Iraqi brigades were to start training to retake Anbar province from the militants and would need heavy weapons for the fight, adding in Arabic that the US administration appeared to be "cooperative."

After meeting with Abadi, Obama said the allies were "making serious progress" in pushing back the militants and thanked Abadi for living up to his commitment to make Iraq's government more inclusive.

But he made no mention of whether the United States was prepared to send more arms to Iraq.

"Success won't occur overnight," Obama said, "but what is clear is that we will be successful."

Abadi has announced that Baghdad's next battle against the militants is to retake Anbar, Iraq's largest province, which shares a border with IS-held territory in Syria.