CIA Director Mike Pompeo confirmed Thursday that a senior commander from the elite Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps was present in Kirkuk as it was taken over by Iraqi troops, further indicating that Iran may have had some involvement in the seizure.
In an interview at a Foundation for the Defense of Democracies event on Thursday, Pompeo interjected to point out that he was aware of Qasem Soleimani’s presence in Kirkuk.
“When we talk about pushing back, what does that mean from your perspective, because I reflect on Qasem Soleimani, the head of the IRGC, the revolutionary guard corps, sort of showing up in all of the wrong places at all of the wrong times from a U.S. perspective,” said Juan C. Zarate, chairman of FDD’s center on sanctions and illicit finance. “He was just in Kirkuk in the middle of this conflict.”
“I’m aware of that,” Pompeo noted.
Pompeo added that the best response to IRGC’s activities in the Middle East is “all the tools available of U.S. power, so I’ll begin with a handful…It has been far too inexpensive for the Iranians to conduct this adventurism. We should raise the cost of that. The agency has an incredibly important role there.”
Pompeo’s statement is in tension with claims earlier this week from the U.S.-led coalition to defeat the Islamic State. Operation Inherent Resolve spokesman Army Col. Ryan Dillon said Tuesday that there was no evidence of any Iranian involvement in the Iraqi seizure of the city of Kirkuk over the weekend.
“Those are Iraqi Security Force elements, like the counterterrorism service, the federal police,” Dillon said. “We don’t have any reporting or any indications that there are units in and around Kirkuk of the elements [from the PMU or Iran].”
A National Security Council spokesperson did admit, however, that the IRGC and the Islamic State would be the main beneficiaries of any kind of prolonged conflict between Iraqi forces and the Kurds, as both have been instrumental in taking the fight to ISIS with U.S. support.
“The biggest winners from further tensions would be ISIS and the IRGC — an outcome we should all want to avoid,” the spokesperson said, according to Voice of America.
While there is now a heated debate about whether Iran played any role in the seizure of Kirkuk, with Michael Rubin in The Washington Examiner arguing Iran had nothing to do with Kirkuk and Ranj Alaaldin in Foreign Policy pointing out that Iran is supporting the Shia militias working with Iraqi forces, Pompeo has confirmed at least that Soleimani was in Kirkuk at the time of its capture by Iraq.
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