Backed by Obama, Iranian militias move to the forefront in Iraq

Do you remember what President Obama’s excuse was for not helping Iraq fight ISIS, in its post-jayvee incarnation, when it was winning victory after victory and marching towards Baghdad last summer? Obama didn’t want to act until Iraq formed a government more hospitable to Sunni interests. Then and only then would Sunnis align themselves with the government in the fight against ISIS, the president intoned.

Iraq eventually formed a new government that, on paper, looks more inclusive. But can Sunnis have confidence that the army is meaningfully less dominated by Shiite and Iranian interests than before? Can they even have confidence that the U.S. isn’t tilting significantly towards Iranian interests in Iraq?

Eli Lake reports that Iran’s militias are taking effective control over Iraq’s army. And they are doing so with the help of the United States:

On the front lines of Iraq’s war against Islamic State, it’s increasingly difficult to tell where the Iraqi army ends and the Iranian-supported Shiite militias begin.

Official U.S. policy has been to support the Iraqi Security Forces as both a hammer against the Sunni jihadists and also as a way to absorb the the Shiite militias that threaten to drive Iraq’s Sunni minority to support anti-government terrorism.

But in an interview this week, Hadi al-Amiri, the founder and leader of Iraq’s oldest and most powerful Shiite militia, the Badr Organization, told me the U.S. ambassador recently offered air strikes to support the Iraqi army and militia ground forces under his command. This has placed the U.S. in the strange position of deepening an alliance with the Islamic Republic of Iran for its war against Islamic extremists.

Actually, this is not such a strange position for the U.S. to be in. For some time, Obama has been in thrall to the Iranians.

Still, it’s a position that’s difficult to reconcile with Obama’s excuse for not joining the battle against ISIS long before he did. Then, the need to accommodate Sunnis trumped all; now it seems to count for little.

Lake continues:

[O]fficial U.S. policy is to support the integration of Iraq’s sectarian militias into the Iraqi Security Forces. In Diyala Province northeast of Baghdad, however, it’s the other way around.

On a tour of areas recently liberated from Islamic State control, General Ali Wazir Shamary told me that ultimately his orders came through a chain of command that originated with Amiri. In other words, the Iraqi army is integrating into Amiri’s Badr Organization in Diyala as opposed to integrating the militias into the army.

From his headquarters, Amiri affirmed Shamary’s statement about the chain of command. “Abadi has put me charge of this area, the Diyala area,” he said, referring to the Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi. He said the police and the army in the province ultimately report to him.

Amiri’s militia has close ties with Iran’s Quds Force, which is responsible for the deaths of American troops in Iraq (as is Amiri’s Badr Corps). Amiri says he meets with the commander of the Quds Force, Qassem Soleimani, whenever he is Baghdad. Soleimani “advises us; he offers us information; we respect him very much,” Amiri stated.

As noted above, Amiri also told Lake that he met with the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, Stuart Jones. According to Amiri, Jones offered to provide air support for Amiri’s ground campaign. When Lake asked the U.S. embassy about this, it didn’t deny Amiri’s account.

It’s understandable that the U.S. would be tempted to help any fighting force that can take on ISIS. But there are strong reasons to resist the temptation. First, assisting the Iranian dominated militias flies in the face of Obama’s stated goal of rebuilding an Iraqi army that can unify a country divided so severely along sectarian lines (the kind of army the U.S. had built up and maintained before Obama’s pull-out left us without influence).

Second, what happens if and when ISIS is pushed back? Michael Flynn, a retired general who served for three years in Iraq and who also served as the head of the Defense Intelligence Agency, told Lake that “members of the Badr Corps are responsible for killing many American Soldiers and they will likely do it again if given the chance.” Flynn added, “as soon as we get done helping them with ISIS, they will very likely turn on us.”

In fact, the Shiite militias are already turning on Sunnis. After the U.S. helped them break ISIS’s siege of Amirli, Shiite militias indiscriminately burned down the homes of Sunni families, according to Human Rights Watch. And five witnesses said last week that 72 unarmed Sunnis were shot execution-style by Shiite militias and security forces in the village of Barwana.

None of this seems to matter to Obama. He is casting America’s lot with Iran no matter what. The worst is yet to come.

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