ERBIL, Kurdistan Region (Kurdistan 24) – US officials admit Washington is quietly working with Iranian-backed Shia militias in Iraq, the Washington Free Beacon reported on Monday.
The lawmakers who spoke with the American paper on and off the record said the policy is one of the US’ chief failures in the region.
They believe the approach “has helped solidify Iran’s presence in key Iraqi territories and appears to directly conflict with the Trump administration’s newly outlined push to combat the Islamic Republic’s regional military efforts, which have included targeting US forces in Syria and other locations.”
The sources argue the State Department has found “common cause” with the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) in defeating the Islamic State (IS).
However, this short-term benefit can greatly affect the US in the long-run, they say, by helping Iran achieve its territorial ambitions.
The paper said senior Trump administration officials acknowledged they had seen evidence that some Iraqi forces on its blacklist are using American arms.
“We have seen reports that some US-origin military equipment is being operated by Iraqi militia units that are not the approved end-users,” a spokesperson for the White House National Security Council was quoted. “We urge the Government of Iraq to expeditiously return this equipment to the full control of the Iraqi Army.”
Washington claims, despite temporary tolerance of Iranian presence in Iraq, they have strict policies to prevent Iran from benefiting from the current policy.
But, in practice, the US seems to be downplaying Iran’s role to benefit from its battle against IS.
Leaders on Capitol Hill are currently pushing the State Department to come clean about possible interactions with Iranian-tied forces in Iraq, the Free Beacon reported.
Rep. Duncan Hunter (R, California) has strongly criticized the State Department for its handling of the conflict between Iraq and the Kurds and called on President Donald Trump or Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis to take responsibility of the issue.
Speaking at a Capitol Hill press conference, Duncan displayed photographs of Iranian-sponsored Shia militias using US military equipment for the assaults on Kirkuk and other Kurdish-controlled areas.
“There’s the M-1 Abrams tank, with the Hezbollah flag,” Duncan said, “I don’t care what the State Department says, they can’t argue with this.”
Hunter, himself, responded to the 9/11 attacks by joining the Marine Corps. Subsequently, he served two tours of duty in Iraq and a third in Afghanistan.
Like the other Congressmen who spoke at Wednesday’s press conference, Hunter believes that US policy, as currently formulated, lets Tehran dominate in Iraq.
“At best, the State Department has been derelict in their duties,” he said. “At worst, they’ve been complicit in allowing the Iranians to take back what I and a lot of my brothers in arms fought for.”
Here is Qassim Soleimani, “with the Iraqi militia leaders,” the Congressman stated, as he pointed to other pictures. “Here’s the IRGC commander, with the militias that we’re equipping, training and sending into combat.”
“Imagine the Kurds looking south and seeing Iranian and Iraqi forces, moving north, with American gear,” he continued. “We’re equipping and training the wrong people.”
On Oct. 13, just three days before Iraqi forces, in combination with Iranian-backed militias, attacked Kirkuk, Trump designated the IRGC a terrorist organization, imposing sanctions on it, as well as “its officials, agents, and affiliates.”
There is some question as to whether the Iraqis’ handling of US equipment—allowing it to pass into the hands of Iranian-backed Shia militias—violates US laws and regulations.
The State Department has the lead on US policy toward Iraq, and Hunter affirmed, “This has to get above the State Department.”
Rep. Ron DeSantis (R., Fla.), a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, is one of the several lawmakers who recently disclosed direct evidence of Iranian-backed fighters using American-made tanks and other military equipment in Iraq.
Several congressmen and senators are questioning the State Department about the alleged common cause with the IRGC, saying these groups have long tried to thwart US operations in the Middle East and have killed a countless number of US soldiers.
The Washington Free Beacon claims that multiple IRGC proxy groups have been operating under the Iraqi Ministry of Interior (MOI), which coordinates and doles out US funding and equipment to various militia groups.
“Iranian-tied entities believed to be benefiting from US programs include Kata’ib Hezbollah, an Iraqi Shia military group supported by Iran; and the Badr forces, an Iranian backed military group. At least four other Iranian-supported military groups also are said to have benefited from US training programs, according to the intelligence information,” it said, adding that Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi is aware of Iran’s role.
The outlet also mentioned Abu Mahdi al-Mohandis, who is a designated terrorist currently leading Kata’ib Hezbollah, receiving US funds, armor, and artillery.
Other lawmakers have shown photos of American-made M-1/A1 Abram tanks which requires direct training from the US to operate.
The Trump administration is said to be aware of Iran’s role but is downplaying it for the time being to focus on defeating IS.
One veteran congressional advisor who works closely with lawmakers on the Iran portfolio expressed concern the Trump administration is being led down the wrong foreign policy path.
“The Trump administration is supporting Iran in just about every country across the Middle East,” the source said, expressing frustration about the policy on background because he is not authorized to speak on the record.
“In the Gulf, the State Department is trying to get the Saudis to cave to Iran’s Qatari allies. In Syria, the Defense Department is abandoning our allies. In Lebanon, they’re bolstering the Hezbollah-controlled government. And, in Iraq, they’re at-best incoherent because they continue to support Iran-controlled militias.”
Editing by Karzan Sulaivany
(Additional reporting by Laurie Mylroie)