Iran Seeks Deeper Military Influence in Iraq amid Tensions with U.S.

President Hassan Rouhani speaks at the Iranian Parliament in the capital Tehran, on August 28, 2018. - It was the first time Rouhani had been summoned by parliament in his five years in power, with MPs demanding answers on unemployment, rising prices and the collapsing value of the rial, which …
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Iran’s defense chief on Thursday reportedly urged for boosting military and defense ties with Iraq, home to anti-U.S. Shiite militias loyal to Tehran and about 5,000 American service members.

The Islamic Republic maintains a substantial influence over its fellow Shiite-majority country, Iraq. Tens of thousands of members of an umbrella organization for mainly Iranian-backed Shiite militias — the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) — reportedly wield an unprecedented level of power and influence in Iraq.

Baghdad has legalized the PMF as a component of the Iraqi security forces. In a phone conversation Thursday with his newly-appointed Iraqi counterpart, Najah Hassan Ali Al-Shammari, Iran’s defense chief, Brig. Gen. Amir Hatami praised “Iraq as a friend of Iran with age-old religious, social and civilizational commonalities,” the state-run Tasnim News Agency reports.

“We consider Iraq’s security, stability, and progress as being in the interests of the region, and have always defended it,” Gen. Hatami declared.

“The minister called for deepening the defense and military relations between the two countries to strengthen their power in the region,” Iran’s state-run Mehr News Agency adds.

His comments came amid an increase in tensions between Iran and the United States, notably after Tehran shot down an American drone last month. An unprecedented wave of sanctions implemented by U.S. President Donald Trump is choking the Iranian economy, angering leaders in Tehran.

Responding to the Iranian minister’s remarks, the Iraqi defense chief expressed gratitude to Tehran’s support in fighting jihadi groups.

“Iraq and Iran share many common interests, and their security and stability are intertwined,” Shammari reportedly added.

Although the PMF fought against the Sunni Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL) alongside the U.S.-led coalition, some factions linked to the group have threatened to push the United States military out of the region, echoing the position of Iran.

The Pentagon’s inspector general (IG) has deemed the PMF and other Shiite proxies in the Middle East a threat for U.S. troops in Iraq and Syria, home to an estimated 2,000 American service members.

Relations between Iran and the United States have deteriorated since President Trump pulled the U.S. out of the 2015 controversial nuclear agreement between Tehran and world powers, arguing that it was not tough enough on the Islamic Republic.

Trump reimposed sanctions suspended under the accord as part of his administration’s maximum pressure campaign, which the U.S. State Department believes has weakened Iran’s ability to expand its military capabilities and fund the PMF and its terrorist proxies.

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