by WorldTribune Staff, September 10, 2017
As the last pockets of Islamic State (ISIS) resistance are cleared in Iraq, a new threat to American troops is emerging.
An Iranian Shi’ite militia, the Hizbullah Brigades, warned the United States that it must leave Iraq when ISIS is defeated or face a new war, Iran’s Fars news agency reported.
Funded by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), the Hizbullah Brigades, also known as Kata’ib Hizbullah (KH), is the “largest and most ruthless Iranian-trained militia fighting in Iraq and Syria,” Rowan Scarborough reported for The Washington Times.
“Iranian leaders aren’t willing to let U.S. forces stick around,” said Michael Rubin of the American Enterprise Institute.
“They see the U.S. commitment as weak, especially on the home front, and they believe that so long as they use proxies, they can enjoy plausible deniability. After three decades of not being held to account for their actions, the Revolutionary Guards has grown cocky.”
A military official told The Washington Times that the U.S. has plans to counter KH if it begins attacking Americans.
“Regarding the sense of Iranian malign influence, we’re trying to alert NATO, the coalition, the State Department, the UN and the Gulf countries,” the military official said. “It’s a really big question. We’re very aware of it. We’re watching the move to post-ISIS. What the Iranians are saying is of significant concern.”
The Hizbullah Brigades, which has about 5,000 fighters, was organized by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) Quds Force in 2007.
Quds operatives trained the Shi’ites in building improvised explosive devices and rocket systems that ultimately killed about 500 U.S. personnel, according to the Pentagon.
Analysts say Iran’s broader goal is “to spread a crescent of Shi’ite hegemony across Iraq, Syria and Lebanon,” the report said.
“With the Iranians, clearly the goal is a pathway all the way to Lebanese Hizbullah,” the military official said.
The National Council of Resistance of Iran said Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal with the Obama administration provided Teheran with billions of dollars to increase the IRGC’s budget and pay various militias.
The military official said the U.S.-led coalition’s downing of an armed drone in Syria in June shows how closely it watches Iran’s proxies. U.S. Central Command described the drone’s operators as “pro-regime.”
“Our actions speak for ourselves,” the U.S. source said. “We’ve shown that if they come even close to threatening any position, we’re going to take action in self-defense. We absolutely take it seriously.”
The official said U.S. commanders talk to the Russians about the Shi’ite militia activities because Russian officials “talk to people we don’t talk to.”
Retired Army Lt. Gen. James Dubik, who commanded troops in Iraq, said post-ISIS American diplomacy must persuade the Iraqi government to blunt KH’s anti-American messaging in the country and make U.S. troop security a top priority.
Part of KH’s propaganda war via Iranian media is to tell Shi’ites falsely that the U.S. created ISIS and is helping it on the battlefield.
Dubik, an analyst at the Washington-based Institute for the Study of War, questioned whether the Trump administration is planning for a new Iraq.
“Reading between the public statements does not lead me to conclude we have a strategy beyond ‘eject ISIS,’ ” he said.
Dubik said one important agreement would be to have U.S. intelligence and special operations forces working closely with Iraq’s counterterrorism personnel to track Iran’s militias.
Washington must also issue a clear warning to Teheran, Dubik said, one that would “make clear our intent to expose their nefarious actions, something that at times we refused to do, and to protect our own forces.”