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January 3, 2020 » Today News »

Iran-backed militias working together to drive U.S. forces from Iraq

Iran-backed militias working together to drive U.S. forces from Iraq


 Affected Countries: iraq; iran; united-states;

The crisscrossing agendas facing Iraq — pressured by the U.S. and Iran while trying to set up a functioning government in Baghdad and preventing a revival of the Islamist terrorism that nearly broke the country apart — were on stark display during a nighttime skirmish this month.

Soldiers from the Popular Mobilization Forces — largely Shiite Muslim militias strongly backed by Tehran — were traveling from Mosul to Kirkuk when Islamic State militants attacked their convoy near the disputed Iraqi-Kurdish city of Makhmour. Six died, and 31 people from the predominantly ethnic Turkmen unit were injured in the shooting.

After the attack, forces near Makhmour asked the U.S.-led coalition to bomb Qarachokh mountain, where the Islamic State fighters hide in caves between Iraq and the autonomous Kurdistan Region’s military bases. The coalition bombed later that night, said Col. Srud Barzanji, who commands Kurdish peshmerga soldiers in Mulla Qarah, near Makhmour.

Like many of Iraq’s Kurds, Col. Barzanji thinks the U.S. military should stay in the country to help fight the Islamic State, which is taking another look at its sanctuaries in Iraq as the last remnants of its “caliphate” in neighboring Syria fall to the U.S. and its allies.

“To leave would be to make the same mistake Obama did in 2011,” he told The Washington Times from his base, surrounded by suicide trucks taken from Islamic State forces.

But the U.S. military presence in Iraq is not universally welcomed. The pro-Iran Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) group is emerging as perhaps the loudest voice arguing that it is time for the Americans to go home. Iraqi media outlets have reported numerous calls from the militias for the U.S. to leave.

Members of the PMF and their political allies in the Iraqi parliament are also said to be spreading conspiracy theories that the Trump administration is helping the Islamic State inside Iraq as a way to justify the U.S. military presence. Just as Islamic State militants are attempting to reassert themselves in remote majority Sunni areas of Iraq, the PMF is stepping up its quest to expel U.S. forces from the country.

It’s an intriguing turn of events. The PMF militias formed in 2014 to fight the Islamic State, which had just captured large swaths of Iraqi territory and major cities such as Ramadi, Mosul and Fallujah. PMF fighters are predominantly Shiite Muslims and have received logistical and material support from Iran. Although Sunni Muslim, Christian, Yazidi and other faiths are represented in their ranks, many see the militias as a virtual arm of Iran inside Iraq.

The PMF formally became part of the Iraqi national security forces in late 2016, but many militia members credit Iran for supplying critical weaponry and military training in the long, successful fight to oust the Islamic State.

Source: Washington Times