by WorldTribune Staff, August 17, 2016
U.S. officials say that up to 100,000 Iranian-backed Shi’ite fighters are on the ground in Iraq, raising the specter that a defeated Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL) will be replaced by another anti-American force.
“The effect of the Obama administration’s policy has been to replace American boots on the ground with Iranians. As Iran advances, one anti-American actor is being replaced with another,” Thomas Joscelyn, a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, told Fox News.
The numbers within the Shi’ite militias, known as the Popular Mobilization Forces, have grown from 80,000 to 100,000 fighters, according Col. Chris Garver, a Baghdad-based U.S. military spokesman. The fighters are mostly Iraqis.
Garver said in an Aug. 16 press conference that there is no coordination between the U.S. and Iranians in Iraq. “We are not coordinating with the Iranians in any way, we are not working with them in any way. However the government of Iraq comes up with the plan, we are supporting [their] plan for the seizure of Mosul.”
Reports have also circulated that Qassem Soleimani, the Iranian general who commands the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) Quds Force, is now on the ground outside Mosul ahead of an expected operation to retake Iraq’s second-largest city from ISIL.
According to the Long War Journal, a spokesman for the Iranian-backed forces said earlier this month that Soleimani is expected to play a “major role” in the battle for Mosul.
U.S. military officials could not confirm Soleimani’s presence in Mosul, but said that “the government of Iraq is in charge of this war. We’re here to support them. So, who they [want in] the campaign is really their decision.”
Soleimani remains banned from international travel through United Nations Security Council resolutions. He was first designated a terrorist and sanctioned by the U.S. in 2005. In October 2011, the U.S. Treasury Department tied Soleimani to the failed Iranian plot to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to the United States at a Washington, D.C. restaurant.
At his confirmation hearing last year, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford was asked how many Americans were killed by Iranian-backed forces under the command of Soleimani: “The number has been recently quoted as about 500. We weren’t always able to attribute the casualties we had to Iranian activity, although many times we suspected it was Iranian activity even though we didn’t necessarily have the forensics to support that.”
In March, an Iranian-backed group said it would attack U.S. forces after the Pentagon announced that hundreds of U.S. Marines were supporting Iraqi forces with artillery fire.
“If the U.S. administration doesn’t withdraw its forces immediately, we will deal with them as forces of occupation,” Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq (AAH) said on its TV channel.
The Iranian-backed group has claimed responsibility for over 6,000 attacks against U.S. forces in Iraq since 2006 and operates under the supervision of Soleimani, according to a report by the Institute for the Study of War.