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Pentagon: Fighting Iran Proxies in Iraq Not Part of U.S. Mission, Despite Threat

Popular Mobilization Forces parade in Basra, 340 miles (550 km) southeast of Baghdad, Iraq, Saturday, Sept. 8, 2018. A local military commander for an alliance of powerful Shiite militias, many of them backed by Iran, vowed a response Saturday to weeklong protests that have turned violent in the southern city …
AP Photo/Nabil al-Jurani
EDWIN MORA
Washington, DC

The U.S. military’s mission in Iraq does not involve taking action against the threat posed by the Baghdad-sanctioned umbrella organization of mostly Shiite fighters known as the Popular Mobilization Forces/Units (PMF/PMU) and other Iran-backed militias, Breitbart News learned from the Pentagon.

Although the U.S. military has praised the PMU as a capable partner in retaking Iraq from the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL), the Pentagon’s lead inspector general (IG), charged with overseeing the U.S. war against the jihadi group in the Middle East; the U.S. State Department; and members of the American Congress have deemed the Iran-backed Shiite force a menace to the United States.

Amid the U.S.-backed operation to retake Mosul, the largest ISIS stronghold in Iraq at the time, Baghdad-based lawmakers legalized the PMU in November 2016 as a component of the Iraqi military, though answering directly to Iraq’s prime minister.

After initially claiming that the U.S.-led coalition had “not provided direct support to the PMF,” the Pentagon eventually argued that the American military only assists Shiite militia units whose leaders have been vetted for links to the government of Iran and terrorist groups, as mandated by law.

The Trump administration has expressed a desire to counter Iran’s influence over territory stretching from Tehran to the Mediterranean via Iraq and Syria.

Breitbart News asked the Pentagon if combating the threat against the United States posed by the Iran-backed Shiite militiamen is part of the Pentagon’s mission in Iraq.

Cmdr. Sean Robertson, a Pentagon spokesman, stressed on Tuesday that the mission of the U.S. military in Iraq is the “enduring defeat” of ISIS, not combating Iran-allied fighters. “The [U.S.-led] Coalition’s mission in Iraq and Syria is the enduring defeat of ISIS,” the commander emphasized. “The Coalition and the Government of Iraq, including vetted ISF [Iraqi security forces] partners, remain united in a long-term, whole-of-government and international effort to set conditions for stabilization activities and humanitarian assistance.”

“We are helping to develop the Iraqi Security Forces to train and equip themselves, building resilience in security and sustainment capabilities, including the growing air enterprise, intelligence, and counter-terrorism,” he added, stressing that the U.S. is seeking to develop an “inclusive” Iraqi security force.

The Pentagon spokesman suggested that the U.S. military supports maintaining the integration of the PMU into the Iraqi armed forces.

“We agree with senior Iraqi political and religious leaders that all armed actors should operate within Iraq’s state security framework and answer to the prime minister,” the commander told Breitbart News.

Asked what the U.S. military is explicitly doing to combat the threat Iran-allied militias pose in Iraq, Robertson replied, “We constantly assess the security situation. The U.S. mission in Iraq is at the request of the Government of Iraq. Our mission reinforces the authority and legitimacy of both the Iraqi government and the ISF. U.S. Forces are well positioned to defend themselves and the American mission in Iraq.”

After Iran-allied militias attacked the American diplomatic consulate in Basra and the embassy in Baghdad in September, the Trump White House warned Tehran that such assaults would not be tolerated, promising to respond “swiftly and decisively” to further provocations.

This month, Heather Nauert, a spokeswoman for the State Department, reaffirmed the Trump administration’s position that the Iranian regime “must respect the sovereignty of the Iraqi government and permit the disarming, demobilization, and reintegration of Shia militias.”

Moreover, the U.S. Treasury Department took action on November 13 to target four individuals affiliated with the Hezbollah wing in Iraq, considered a branch of the PMU.

The Pentagon has been less vocal about this plan. Since reports first surfaced that the Shiite fighters were participating in the mission against ISIS, Breitbart News has repeatedly asked the Pentagon to reconcile its support for Iran-backed militiamen in Iraq while deeming them an enemy in Syria, to no avail.

This week, Reuters quoted Qais al-Khazali, the leader of the Asaib Ahl al-Haq (AAH) PMU faction, as stressing, “We don’t expect a good future for relations between Iraq and the United States under [U.S. President Donald] Trump.”

“A [U.S.] training role is one thing but presence of combat forces is unacceptable. Parliament should oppose this. [ISIS] is no longer a military threat, so there should be a reduction” in U.S. troops, he added, reiterating his call for American troops to leave Iraq.

The AAH has explicitly made threats against the U.S. military during the anti-ISIS operations. In late 2012, the Institute for the Study of War linked the AAH faction to more than 6,000 attacks on U.S. troops between 2006 and 2011.

According to the Osen LLC law firm, Iran is expected to go to trial in Washington, DC, next month for “orchestrating terrorist attacks against U.S. service members.”

Baghdad legalized the PMU as a component of the Iraqi military, but Reuters acknowledged that the AAH faction “remains separate from the military and police.”

In Iraq, the threat against U.S. troops posed by Iranian proxies has intensified according to the office of the lead inspector general charged with overseeing the American war against ISIS, a component of the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD):

The DoD reported to the DoD OIG that if left unchecked, Iranian-sponsored harassment of U.S. forces could increase, and Iranian influence operations could increase as they vie for influence in the [newly elected Iraqi] government. …According to the DoD, Iranian proxies continued threat messaging against the U.S. presence in Iraq and working to gain access to strategic locations for targeting and surveillance.

On Tuesday, members of the U.S. Congress finalized a bill to sanction the AAH, which denies that it receives support from Iran and Hezbollah wings of the PMU.

“Iraqi Sunni and Kurdish politicians have called for disarming the PMF. They say the militias are responsible for widespread abuses including extra-judicial killings and displacing non-Shi’ite populations, and in effect report to Tehran, not the government in Baghdad,” Reuters noted this week.

Max Primorac, the special representative for reconstruction in minority areas of Iraq for the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), told Breitbart News this month that Iran-linked militias posed a threat to Christians and other religious minorities in the country.

Reuters estimated this week that 150,000 PMU members are in Iraq, including groups that fought the U.S. military after the 2003 invasion.

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