Iraqi Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi on Monday ruled out any foreign ground intervention to assist government forces in retaking territory lost to jihadists and urged Sunnis to give up such hopes.
Abadi was speaking in the city of Najaf after a rare meeting with the most revered figure among Iraqi Shiites, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, and before a trip to neighbouring Iran.
“No ground forces from any superpower, international coalition or regional power will fight here,” Abadi told reporters, reiterating previous remarks on the issue.
“This is my decision, it is the decision of the Iraqi government.”
Some officials and Sunni tribal leaders in areas most affected by the unrest have argued the world should step up its involvement from air strikes to a ground intervention against the Islamic State (IS) jihadist group.
“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 for two reasons,” Abadi said.
“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 prime minister, from Iraq’s Shiite majority, had just met with Sistani, a reclusive Iranian-born cleric who is the highest Shiite 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.
Abadi was due to travel to Iran later Monday for talks on Iraq’s war against IS, which has since June seized control of swathes of the country and brought it to the brink of collapse.
IS fighters hold towns just a few miles (kilometres) from the Iranian border, and the Islamic republic has been reported by senior Kurdish officials to have deployed troops inside Iraq.
Major General Qassem Suleimani, the chief of Iran’s elite Quds Force, has been spotted in Iraq, where it is believed to play a key role in coordinating Iraqi military operations.