SIGNIFICANT Shift In US Strategy In Iraq
American forces began launching airstrikes against the Islamic State-held city of Tikrit yesterday, on the condition Iran-backed, Shiite militias would withdraw and allow U.S.-trained Iraqi counterrrorism forces to lead, according to The New York Times.
This turnabout doesn’t explain how the Islamic State will ultimately be ousted from Tikrit, when Shiite militias, who make up over two-thirds of the forces on the ground, are pulling back. Shiite forces have been leading and organizing the offensive since March 2.
“It’s somewhat of a gamble,” the NYT quoted a U.S. official as saying.
President Barack Obama agreed to airstrike Islamic State targets in Tikrit at the request of the Iraqi government, after the operation to retake the city stalled in recent days. But the U.S. wants to avoid appearing like an air force for Iranian proxies. Such a move could cause problems for America’s relationship with regional Sunni Arab allies. Yet, this wouldn’t be the first time U.S. air power has opened the door for Shiite militias.
The northeastern Iraqi city of Amerli was freed from Islamic State militants by Kurdish and Shiite forces in August of 2014, partially due to U.S. airstrikes. After the offensive, Shiite militias went on a sectarian rampage, raiding at least 30 villages. (RELATED: Rampage In Iraqi Village Shows Cracks In US Middle East Policy)
Iraqi Shiite militias are backed by the region’s most influential Shiite power, Iran. Legendary commander of Iran’s secretive Quds Force, Qassem Suleimani, was believed to be directing some of the Shiite militias, proxies competing for approval from country’s point man in the region. (RELATED: Top Iranian General Is Taking The Lead Against ISIS, Spreading Iranian Influence Across Middle East)
Although the U.S. and Iran share a common enemy in the Islamic State, American officials fear Iranian duplicity. If nuclear negotiations collapse or if the U.S. adopts a hardline stance against Iranian ally Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, Iran could unleash Shiite proxies on American targets, according to an article in Politico.
Inflammatory rhetoric from Iranian proxies appears to support this possibility, alleging the U.S. is actually dropping supplies to the Islamic State. Writes Phillip Smyth in an article for Hizballah Cavalcade:
Claims emanating from Iranian and their other proxy Shia militias have stated that the U.S. and other Coalition allies have supplied the so-called “Islamic State” (ISIS) via aerial deliveries. This was particularly the case in the month of February, during the run-up to the predominantly Shia militia push on Tikrit.
The Islamic State seized Saddam Hussein’s hometown of Tikrit last June.
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