Iran’s deputy foreign minister has denied claims that Iranian forces are fighting the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL) in Iraq, reports BasNews.
“We have sent no military forces to Iraq,” reportedly said Hossein Amir Abdollahian, Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister for Arab and African affairs, speaking from Moscow on Monday.
His comments seem to contradict assertions by Gen. Qassem Soleimani, the head of the elite Quds forces in Iran’s Revolutionary Guard.
Gen. Soleimani, referring to ISIS in Iraq, said, “Today, in the fight against this dangerous phenomenon, nobody is present except Iran.”
The general added, “Obama has not done a damn thing so far to confront [ISIS]: doesn’t that show that there is no will in America to confront it?”
According to The Associated Press (AP), Iranian forces, backed by an Iraqi Shiite militia, are playing a role in efforts to retake the Beiji oil refinery in Iraq from ISIS.
“Two U.S. defense officials said Iranian forces have taken a significant offensive role in the Beiji operation in recent days, in conjunction with Iraqi Shiite militia,” reports AP. “The officials were not authorized to discuss the matter publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.”
A U.S.-led coalition has been launching airstrikes against ISIS targets in Iraq since August 2014, providing support for local forces on the ground.
“Iran’s role in Iraq is a major complicating factor for the Obama administration as it searches for the most effective approach to countering the Islamic State group,” notes AP. “U.S. officials have said they do not oppose contributions from Iran-supported Iraqi Shiite militias as long as they operate under the command and control of the Iraqi government.”
ISIS “fighters recently gained substantial control over the Beiji oil refinery, a strategically important prize in the battle for Iraq’s future and a potential source of millions of dollars in income for the militants,” it adds. “They also control the nearby town of Beiji, on the main route from Baghdad to Mosul, along the Tigris River.”
Iran-backed Shiite militias attempted to seize Tikrit, Iraq from ISIS in March, but failed. Iraqi security forces, backed by Shiite militias, were able to capture Tikrit in April with the support of U.S.-led airstrikes.
On Friday, the Pentagon revealed that the cost of America’s military efforts in Iraq and Syria since the U.S.-led air campaign began in late August 2014 reached $2.44 billion as of May 7.