U.S. warns Tikrit offensive must not fuel sectarianism

The U.S. said the anti-ISIS operation in Tikrit should not be used ‘as a cover for individuals taking sectarian-motivated retribution’

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The United States on Wednesday warned an offensive to retake control of the Iraqi city of Tikrit from Islamic State militants must not fuel sectarian tensions.

"It is important -- and (Iraqi) Prime Minister (Haider al-)Abadi himself has indicated... that this operation should not be used as an excuse or as cover for individuals taking sectarian-motivated retribution," said White House spokesman Josh Earnest.

"That would tear at the fabric of the country, and weaken the ability of the Iraqis to confront this threat to their country."

U.S. forces are not involved in the operation, which is being carried out by an alliance of Iraqi government forces, Shiite militias, volunteer units and Iran.

"Iranian forces are also involved," Earnest acknowledged. "We have said from the beginning that the United States will not coordinate militarily with the Iranians."

The presence of Shiite militia and Iranian forces has prompted fears that the majority Sunni city could be the scene of revenge attacks that have been a feature of previous assaults.

"The fact that some Iranian military personnel are involved doesn't change the priority that the Iraqis can and should place on this operation to ensure that it's inclusive and multisectarian," said Earnest.

The White House said U.S. Vice President Joe Biden on Wednesday discussed the operation with Prime Minister Abadi, welcoming his commitment to the "protection of civilians and the importance of ensuring all armed groups act under control of the state."

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