WASHINGTON DC, United States (Kurdistan 24) – On Thursday, US Senator Ted Cruz (Republican, Texas) issued a statement affirming, “Prime Minister [Haider al-Abadi] and the Government of Iraq must maintain its focus on defeating the Islamic State (IS), and halt all efforts that contribute to a regional escalation against the Kurdish people.”
The statement noted the Kurds “have demonstrated considerable gallantry in the face of [IS] and have more than earned our continued support.”
A member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Cruz is the fifth member of that committee—along with Senators John McCain, Jim Inhofe, Lindsey Graham, and Richard Blumenthal—to criticize the Donald Trump administration’s passive stance toward Baghdad’s assault on Kirkuk.
Cruz warned, “We must not permit our support or our military equipment to be used by Iranian-backed militias toward a new, ill-conceived operation that is counter to US interests.”
Indeed, Zalmay Khalilzad, the former US ambassador to Iraq, told Kurdistan24 that Iranian-backed militias had used US M-1 Abrams tanks in the offensive on Kirkuk. He advised that it was vital for the US to disarm those tanks.
However, the Defense Department denies knowledge of any role Iran may have played in the assault on Kirkuk or that Iranian-backed Shia militias—known as the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF)—may have played.
On Tuesday, the Spokesperson for the Combined Joint Task Force-Operation Iraqi Resolve (CJTF-OIR), Col. Ryan Dillon, did just that.
He repeatedly claimed not to know anything about a PMF role in Iraq’s assault on Kirkuk nor of the involvement of Iranian officials, like Qassim Soleimani, head of the Al Quds force, a unit of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), which the Trump administration had just designated a terrorist organization.
Two days after Dillon spoke, on Thursday, CIA Director Mike Pompeo confirmed that Soleimani had, indeed, been in Kirkuk.
Yet, when the Chief Pentagon Spokesperson was asked later that day if the Pentagon shared Pompeo’s view, she responded, “I refer you to the CIA.”
When asked about Dillon’s denial of any information about the role of Iranian-backed PMF’s, she replied, “I would have to refer you to OIR.”
She invited the Joint Staff Director to provide more information, but he declined.
A substantial gap, thus, exists between the Pentagon and several Senators who oversee its activities.
Cruz’ statement warned, “Iran’s dangerous influence is far-reaching” and “the events of the past week in Kirkuk are yet another indication of their ambitious efforts to reshape and influence the Middle East.”
Michael Pregent worked for Generals David Petraeus, H.R. McMaster, and Raymond Odierno to identify IRGC operatives within the Iraqi security services. He is now an Iraq expert at the Hudson Institute.
In response to the Defense Department’s persistent denial, Pregent tweeted a video showing a crowd of soldiers, shouting religious slogans, as they raised the Iraqi flag, with the comment, “DOD, here’s Mohandes & Ameri - leaders of IRGC-QF [IRGC-Quds Force] militias - in Kirkuk 4 short days ago.”
Cruz also affirmed his support for Kurdish political aspirations. “The Iraqi Kurds, who have been instrumental in deterring [IS], have expressed their clear desire for independence.”
“Democracies across the globe should recognize the efforts made by the Kurdistan Regional Government to achieve self-determination, in the face of regional actors threatening their very livelihood,” his statement continued.
“Should the Government of Iraq continue down this path and effectively act as a puppet of Iran, it would require a reevaluation of US support to the country,” Cruz concluded.
Editing by Karzan Sulaivany