ERBIL, Kurdistan Region (Kurdistan 24) – Most of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces currently engaged against “terrorist groups” in the war-ridden country are Iranian proxies, according to a top US security official.
Gen. H.R. McMaster, National Security Adviser to President Donald Trump, spoke at a panel at the annual Reagan National Defense Forum in Southern California alongside CIA director, Mike Pompeo.
“What the Iranians have done across the Middle East is fuel and accelerate cycles of violence so that they can take advantage of chaos and weak states to make them dependent on Iran for support,” McMaster said.
He added that Tehran was using a campaign of subversion in Iraq, providing direct support to the Syrian regime.
“About 80 percent of Assad fighters are Iranian proxies in Syria to establish a land bridge over into the Mediterranean.”
McMaster warned of Iran’s “hegemonic aims” in the region, echoing the Head of the Kurdistan Region’s Department of Foreign Relations, Falah Mustafa Bakir’s remarks on Iran’s interference in regional politics.
“Tehran wants to become a regional superpower. Iran is the most influential country in Iraq today,” he said, noting that it had attacked western interests when it assaulted the Kurdistan Region, using its network of Iranian-supported Shia militias.
On Oct. 16, Iraqi forces alongside the Hashd al-Shaabi, in an operation orchestrated by Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps’ (IRGC) Commander Qassem Soleimani, attacked Kirkuk and other disputed territories. US spokesmen claimed to have no knowledge of Soleimani’s role or that of the Shia militias—although Pompeo subsequently confirmed both.
“You need to only look to the past few weeks and the efforts of the Iranians to exert influence in northern Iraq, in addition to other places in Iraq, to see that Iranian efforts to be the hegemonic power throughout the Middle East continue to increase,” McMaster said.
Many experts and politicians fear Tehran’s interference in Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon will only lead to greater instability in the region.
“The fact that we were trying to accommodate Iran has empowered Iran across the globe […] we have to address growing Iranian capability, and their use of militias, proxies, and terrorist organizations,” McMaster concluded.
A few days ago, Iranian media and websites published a video clip of Soleimani on one of the front lines directing a group of fighters, including Syrian officers, against remnants of the Islamic State (IS).
In a BBC report last month from al-Bukamal—a Syrian town lying at a key border junction with Iraq—the Iraqi commander of an Iranian-backed Shia force asserted that Tehran’s objective of securing a bridge to the Mediterranean had been achieved.
Shia flags now fly over areas once held by IS, marking the land route the Iranian-backed militias such as the Lebanese Hezbollah and the Iraqi Hashd al-Shaabi have carved out through Iraq and Syria.
Editing by C. Douglas