Several U.S. congressmen including war veterans gathered in front of the Capitol to slam the presence of Iran-backed militias within the Iraqi Interior Ministry and call for more U.S. State Department and White House support for Kurds, Kurdish media network Rudaw reports.
“A picture is worth 1,000 words. There’s the M1 Abrams tank with a Hezbollah flag. I don’t care what the State Department says, they can’t argue with this. At the best, the State Department has been derelict in its duties. At worse they’ve been complicit,” U.S. Congressman Duncan Hunter, while holding up a photo of what he believes were Shiite militias on a U.S. tank.
Many of congressmen and advisors on Wednesday emphasized that the State Department policy does not match how they see the facts on the ground.
“We are equipping and training the wrong people. It’s time we rose above what the State Department has screwed up over and over. Iraq was a military victory lost by politics in the State Department. The State Department is going to lose us Iraq again in one of the worst ways,” added Duncan.
Duncan cautioned that the decision to ignore Iranian influence in Iraq is ignoring a larger regional problem that would be a military corridor from Tehran to Damascus and “on Israel’s doorstep.”
“It’s time that we as Americans choose a side. And that side is freedom, and allies, and the Kurds,” said Duncan.
Duncan claimed that U.S. President Donald Trump isn’t being informed by the top levels of Iran’s influence while pointing to the photos of Hezbollah flags on U.S.-made weapons in Iraq.
“I don’t think Secretary Mattis has seen this picture of a Hezbollah flag on his M1 Abrams tank,” said Duncan.
Representative Trent Franks asked the administration of President Donald Trump to re-evaluate Iran’s “malicious influence” in Iraq.
“This president has had a tremendously effective instinct in making sure that we did not re-certify the Iranian nuclear deal and I hope now that he listens to his own instincts rather than the D.C.’s establishment when it comes to recognizing the insinuation of the Iranian influence in Iraq,” said Franks, who is a member of the House Armed Services Committee chairs the Missile Defense Caucus.
There has been speculation that the United States is backing Abadi because it prefers him to hold the prime minister post over other Shi’ite Alliance leaders like the previous Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.
“[Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-] Abadi promised that we would not attack the Kurds weeks ago. For him to break his word to the whole world does not speak well of his leadership,” said Franks.
Others, including Representative Lee Zeldin, noted that there are people in Iraq’s government who are influenced by Iran.
“It’s important for Abadi to take more leadership over his own government to reject this Iranian influence. The Iranians can’t help themselves, but to meddle all over the Middle East? Whether it’s the [Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’] activities, Qassam Soleimani is specifically leading that effort. It’s to support Assad in Syria or Hezbollah” questioned Zeldin.
Michael P. Pregent, who is foreign policy analyst and Hudson Institute fellow, supported that view going so far to say as Abadi has no control of the Iran-backed militias. Pregent disclosed evidence that he says proves Iranian militants are directly benefiting from the U.S.’s train and equip programs in Iraq.
“They’re using U.S. tanks and any soldier who has driven a tank before knows that you can’t just pick one up on the battlefield and learn to drive it. You have to be trained by an American advisor to do it. And they only way you get that training is if you’re wearing an Iraqi uniform and these militias brag they can wear any uniform in the Iraq forces and they’re doing so,” Pregent said.
At the height of the war with ISIS, the Iraqi government voted last December to formally bring the paramilitary forces – including the Hashd – formally under the umbrella of the Iraqi government.
As the war with ISIS wraps up, leaders have warned of what comes next in a region where power vacuums have bred extremism since the 2003 U.S. invasion. A former assistant to Trump, Dr. Sebastian Gorka, expressed that “Shi’ite terrorism” is the next threat in the Middle East after “Sunni terrorism” is defeated.