The president of Iraq has warned that the world is “on the brink of serious catastrophe” as tensions between Iran and the US escalate in the Gulf.
Speaking to Sky News, Barham Salih said that everything must be done to avoid another conflict in the Middle East.
He said: “We must be worried and we have to take this escalation seriously. We’re urging restraint and we are urging calm because the last thing the Middle East needs is another war.
“These tensions need to be defused and we very much hope a serious conversation will start to take place to avoid further escalation.”
President Salih said that he had not seen American intelligence that blames Iran for the attacks of six tankers in the Gulf, but welcomed Donald Trump’s last-minute decision to call off retaliatory airstrikes against Iran.
“Restraint is needed,” he said.
“We cannot push this region into another abyss. The last thing we need is another conflict.”
If Iran and the US do go to war, Iraq could be caught in the middle – its neighbour Iran on one side, its military and financial backer on the other.
President Salih said discussions must also take place to rescue the JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action), the official name of the Iranian nuclear deal, otherwise the crisis would deepen.
“Abrogating the JCPOA would mean uncertainty and a lot of miscalculations perhaps,” he said.
“That would be detrimental to the entire neighbourhood, not just to Iran or Iraq or the Gulf.”
President Salih met Theresa May in Downing Street to talk about the problem of foreign fighters imprisoned in Iraq and Syria, hundreds of whom are British.
“I do not think it is fit to expect Iraq to deal with all these problems,” he said.
“We simply can’t be expected to deal with all the consequences alone. We need to work out arrangements together that will be fair, that will be secure and that will enable collective responsibility for this matter.
“This is Guantanamo Bay multiplied by a thousand.”
Iraq is still struggling to contain the remnants of Islamic State (IS). Intelligence estimates put the number of IS fighters in the country between 15,000 and 18,000.
President Salih said: “IS has been defeated territorially. Four of five years ago they were in control of one third of Iraqi territory, they no longer control territory. But to think of IS as over and done with would be a mistake.
“IS is not over, not eradicated and we have seen this movie before: you defeat one terrorist group only for it to be replaced by a mutant which is more dangerous and more lethal. Let’s not repeat that mistake.”