WASHINGTON, DC — Rep. Ryan Zinke (R-MT), former commander of U.S. special forces in Iraq, sounded the alarm on the growing Iranian influence in Iraq, warning that it is “problematic” and will eventually lead to a “horrific scenario.”
Breitbart News interviewed Zinke, a member of the House Armed Services Committee, about Iran backing Shiite militias in their fight against the Islamic State (ISIS, ISIL) in Iraq.
“It should be no surprise,” Rep. Zinke, who led a special force of more than 3,500 during the Iraq war, told Breitbart News. “The Obama administration continues to believe that it can provide assistance through the centralized Iraqi government, which is Shiite and has a very close relationship with Iran.”
“It’s problematic because you have an Iranian influence versus an ISIS influence and both of them are leading to the same destination of a horrific scenario,” continued Congress’ only Navy SEAL veteran.
Iran and the Shiite militias it supports are reportedly leading the fight to retake Tikrit, Saddam Hussein’s birthplace, from ISIS. This poses a military and political dilemma for the Obama administration, which has been under criticism from Republican and Democrat lawmakers over negotiations to rein in Iran’s nuclear ambitions.
Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told lawmakers this week that the involvement of Iranian-backed Shiite militias in the battle for Tikrit could be a “positive thing” as long as it does not enflame sectarian tensions.
Reacting to Gen. Dempsey’s comments, Rep. Zinke told Breitbart News that Iran will “definitely” exacerbate sectarian tensions.
“My view as a former deputy commander and [former] active commander of special forces in Iraq is that the Iranian influence has always been a destabilizing factor,” he said. “In fact, we’ve lost a lot of American blood as a result of direct Iranian support to insurgents and make no mistake Iran is not our friend, and to support Iran is tantamount to supporting our enemy.”
Rep. Zinke blasted the Obama administration for allowing Iran to take the lead of military efforts against ISIS in Iraq.
“You now have Iran in the lead, and where is this administration? We’ve said all along, that air operations alone are not going to be effective against ISIS,” declared the congressman from Montana. “It will take a force structure by the U.S. that’s embedded into the Kurds and Sunni tribes in coordination with the centralized government.”
“What we’ll continue to see is less things change under this administration, a lack of leadership, a lack of resolve, and that gives the signal to our enemies that we are not going to be there for our allies and that emboldens our enemies,” he also said, later adding, “What we’re looking at is a destabilization of the Middle East caused and fueled by this administration’s lack of resolve and leadership.”
Rep. Zinke pointed out that Iran is taking advantage of the Obama administration’s lack of leadership and resolve in the Middle East.
“They’re looking at this strategically. They understand that a stronger influence already with a Shiite centralized government [in Iraq] is in the best interest of Iran and, make no mistake, the ISIS long term play is a Sunni nation,” he explained. “I believe the Iranian play, longer term, is greater Iranian influence in that region and both of them are not in the best interest of the United States or our allies.”
“Iran sees that under this administration, we’re not going to get serious about it, so they’re filling a vacuum and gaining more and more influence in Iraq,” added Zinke.
Zinke joined other Republican lawmakers in sounding the alarm on Iran’s growing influence in Iraq.
Gen. Dempsey told lawmakers that Shiite militias backed by Iran make up an estimated two-thirds of the 30,000-strong offensive to retake Tikrit, adding that Iran is also providing artillery and other supplies.
Maj. Gen. Qasem Soleimani, a notorious Iranian commander, is leading the Iraqi offensive to seize back Tikrit from ISIS, reports Newsweek. Soleimani once led the elite Quds Force, the special operations arm of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IGRC).
Gen. Soleimani is considered “a reviled figure in American security and military circles” because he once directed a deadly campaign against U.S. troops in Iraq, notes The New York Times.
Zinke said that the U.S. should ensure the support and logistics it provides to Iraq goes directly to the Kurds.
The Montana lawmaker also told Breitbart News that the Obama administration blew multiple opportunities to diminish the growing Iranian influence in the region.
“We need to isolate and push aside the evil part of Islam which is ISIS and I believe also Iran,” he said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.