WASHINGTON, DC — Rep. Steve Russell (R-OK), a retired Army lieutenant colonel and Iraq war veteran, told Breitbart News that he is “very concerned” about the growing Iranian influence in Iraq where Iranian-backed Shiite militias are fighting the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL).
The former U.S. Army Ranger described Iran’s presence in Iraq as “very dangerous.”
He pointed out that by withdrawing all U.S. troops from Iraq in 2012, the Obama administration lost its chance to prevent the rise of ISIS.
“I’m very concerned about the ascendancy of Iranian influence in Iraq,” he told Breitbart News. “It doesn’t bode well for a government that must accommodate disenfranchised Sunnis in the future.”
“I think the problem was when the administration took the temptation to pull completely out of Iraq rather than have a status of forces agreement, we lost our leverage in the region by not having a presence there,” he added. “We were not able to provide the forces that could’ve jumped on this very early and could’ve stop ISIS before we would’ve seen human suffering on such a tragic scale.”
Rep. Russell noted that Shiite militias have always played a role in Iraq, but added that now they are doing so openly.
“Iranian generals and other military leaders without any kind of cover are leading these organizations and are launching an offensive against ISIS,” he said. “All of that may seem well and good in the short-term because it’s going against a common enemy, but the real question remains what will happen when ISIS is no longer a threat.”
Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told lawmakers this week that in the battle to retake Tikrit, Iraq from ISIS, the estimated 20,000 Iranian-backed Shiite militias far outnumber the 3,000 Iraqi security forces and 1,000 Sunni tribal fighters who have joined them.
The chairman said the U.S. military is concerned about what happens after the Shia militia forces take control of Sunni-dominated Tikrit, Saddam Hussein’s hometown.
Nevertheless, the general added, “The activity of the Iranians and their support for the Iraqi Security Forces is a positive thing in military terms against ISIL.”
Iraq’s Shiite militia leader has reportedly said that Iran’s assistance to the Iraqi forces in their fight against ISIS has been “unconditional.”
Congressman Russell warned against Iran’s presence in Iraq, saying it will tip the balance of power in the region.
“The danger is Iran now has open Shia militias that they are using in Iraq so we see an Iranian presence, as [Israeli] Prime Minister [Benjamin] Netanyahu pointed out, in four middle eastern capitals now and that’s very, very dangerous,” he said. “That’s going to shift the scales of power and influence in a very uncertain way.”
“We are so naive with this administration’s foreign policy — they’re not even thinking along these lines,” added Russell.
The Republican Congressman supports the use of U.S. ground forces in Iraq, but noted that the conflict will require a political solution.
“The question becomes: once you take the military option and you get short-term success and you get some defeat of ISIS, what do you do after? And I don’t see that the President’s authorization for the use of military force, his request, has any kind strategy to think beyond any of this,” he added.
Congressman Russell commanded a unit in Iraq that played a key role in capturing Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein. As a soldier, he was deployed to Kosovo, Kuwait, Afghanistan, and Iraq.
Other Republican lawmakers have condemned Iran’s influence in Iraq.