U.S.-led coalition forces in Iraq have provided weapons and training to hundreds of Shiite militias known for being affiliated with Iran, including some the U.S. has designated terrorists, the Los Angeles Times has learned.
The LA Times article, which notes that the move to assist Iran-backed militias marks a “significant break” with past U.S. policy, comes after the Pentagon categorically denied that the U.S. military is providing assistance to Shiite militias in Iraq participating in the ongoing offensive to liberate Mosul from the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL).
According to the Times:
The U.S.-led coalition has provided hundreds of guns and training to the [Shiite] fighters in recent weeks, indicating a new level of cooperation, although U.S. military officials quickly moved to downplay it, saying the fighters being trained have no ties to the Iranian-backed groups that targeted Americans in the past.
Some news outlets have reported that members of Iran’s terrorist proxy Hezbollah are among the Shiite fighters taking part in the Mosul operation, a charge that a U.S. defense official denied when questioned by Breitbart News.
The LA Times notes that “the senior leadership of the Shiite forces includes individuals who have been deemed terrorists by the United States.”
Asked whether the U.S. military was “allowing” Shiite militias with bloody histories of murdering U.S. troops to participate in the Mosul offensive, the official told Breitbart News on condition of anonymity, “We are confident in our force protection measures.”
Echoing what Col. John Dorrian, a U.S. military spokesman in Baghdad, told the Times, the defense official told Breitbart News in October that forces in Iraq participating in the Mosul operation who receive U.S. military assistance are being vetted for links to terrorist organizations and associations to the government of Iran.
“Some Iraqi units have been restricted from receiving assistance because their commander didn’t pass vetting,” revealed the official, adding that “the results of that vetting are reported to Congress on a quarterly basis,” as mandated by law.
“U.S. policy on this matter has not changed,” Col. Dorrian told the Times, referring to the vetting.
“We only train forces we can vet,” Dorrian said. “You assess to make sure they don’t have association with terrorist groups, or groups associated with the government of Iran. They must be with groups that promote respect for human rights and rule of law.”
Although the colonel conceded that some Shiite militias are still designated terrorists by the United States, he emphasized that those receiving training are not affiliated with groups who have “American blood on their hands.”
However, “U.S. officials acknowledged the difficulty in fully vetting all members of the militias,” reports the LA Times.
American military officials, including a top commander of the U.S.-led coalition against ISIS in Iraq and Syria, have acknowledged that Shiite militias, including some backed by Iran, are fighting to retake Mosul as part of the umbrella network of militias called Popular Mobilization Units (PMUs), which also includes Sunni Arab tribesman.
The PMU is also known as the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) and al-Hashd al-Shabi.
Soon after the offensive started on October 17, American Maj. Gen. Gary Volesky, commander of the U.S.-led coalition’s land component and commander of the storied 101st Airborne Division, told Pentagon reporters that U.S. troops fighting to liberate Mosul are only backing the Sunni component of the PMU, claiming that the Shiite PMU troops are not under the control of the Shiite-led Iraqi government.
“We don’t support them,” declared Gen. Volesky, adding, “The Shiite PMF are not going into Mosul.”
Nevertheless, the Iraqi parliament passed a law in November that made the Shiite militias, including the PMF, a legal military corps after Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi vowed that only regular members of the Iraqi forces would enter Sunni-dominated Mosul, the second-largest city in Iraq and ISIS’s last remaining stronghold in the country.
The LA Times learned from Col. Dorrian that “after the Iraqi parliament passed the law legalizing the militias, U.S. and coalition special forces began training 500 of the new recruits, many of them Sunni, at multiple sites outside Mosul on Dec. 4.”
Citing Haitham Mayahi, senior political adviser to Iran-backed Hadi Ameri, the head of the Badr Organization, the military wing of a Shiite political party, the newspaper reports that “militia leaders agreed to have up to 900 new fighters trained to help expand their ranks and hold cities once they are cleared of Islamic State militants.”
Iran-backed Shiite militias have been accused by human rights groups such as Amnesty International of committing sectarian killings and other atrocities against Sunnis in Iraq.
“Experts estimated there are at least 40 of the [Shiite] militias [in Iraq] with a combined 80,000 to 100,000 active members,” notes the Times.