As many as 80,000 Iranian-backed militia are currently fighting Islamic State in Iraq, according to a U.S. Army spokesman.
Col. Christopher Garver, the spokesman for Operation Inherent Resolve, confirmed to Fox News that of the 100,000 Shiite militia fighters operating in Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Units (PMUs), 80 percent are backed directly by the Islamic Republic of Iran.
“The [Iranian-backed] Shia militia are usually identified at around 80,000,” Garver told Fox News’s Lucas Tomlinson.
The PMUs have have straddled the fence where it concerns dual loyalty between Iran and Iraq since they were first integrated into the conventional Iraq Security Forces (ISF). Baghdad essentially deputized the PMUs as a response to the startling rise of ISIS in 2014, but Iran is known to provide military advice and logistical support to the militias.
Iran’s extensive influence among the PMUs has led to serious concern regarding U.S. policy in the region, as well as the safety of U.S. personnel operating in Iraq. Infamous Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr encouraged his followers to target the approximately 4,600 U.S. military forces in Iraq last month.
“The effect of the Obama administration’s policy has been to replace American boots on the ground with the Iranian’s. As Iran advances, one anti-American actor is being replaced with another,” Thomas Joscelyn, a senior fellow with the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and editor of the Long War Journal, told Fox.
Iran’s increasing dominance in the region raises questions as to the nature of the U.S.-Iraqi relationship. Garver assured reporters in a briefing Tuesday that the U.S. is not coordinating with Iran in any way when it comes to operations in Iraq, but it would appear that Baghdad is more than happy to accept Iranian aid and advice.
The Iraqi government is believed to have formally requested the help of Iran’s top covert operative, Gen. Qassem Soleimani, the head of the notorious Quds Force, in May. Soleimani is responsible for the deaths of as many as 500 U.S. soldiers, according to Marine Corps Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
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