It's come to this: US forces sharing Iraqi base with Iran and Hezbullah
Josh Rogin and Eli Lake report that the United States is sharing the Taqqadum military base in Iraq with Iranian and Hezbullah forces
Two senior administration officials confirmed to us that U.S.
soldiers and Shiite militia groups are both using the Taqqadum military
base in Anbar, the same Iraqi base where President Obama is sending
an additional 450 U.S. military personnel to help train the local
forces fighting against the Islamic State. Some of the Iran-backed
Shiite militias at the base have killed American soldiers in the past.
Some inside the Obama administration fear that sharing the base puts
U.S. soldiers at risk. The U.S. intelligence community has reported back
to Washington that representatives of some of the more extreme militias
have been spying on U.S. operations at Taqqadum, one senior
administration official told us. That could be calamitous if the fragile
relationship between the U.S. military and the Shiite militias comes
apart and Iran-backed forces decide to again target U.S. troops.
American critics of this growing cooperation between the U.S.
military and the Iranian-backed militias call it a betrayal of the U.S.
personnel who fought against the militias during the 10-year U.S.
occupation of Iraq.
“It’s an insult to the families of the American soldiers that were
wounded and killed in battles in which the Shia militias were the
enemy,” Senate Armed Services Chairman John McCain told us. “Now,
providing arms to them and supporting them, it’s very hard for those
families to understand.”
The U.S. is not directly training Shiite units of what are known as
the Popular Mobilization Forces, which include tens of thousands of
Iraqis who have volunteered to fight against the Islamic State as well
as thousands of hardened militants who ultimately answer to militia
leaders loyal to Tehran. But the U.S. is flying close air support
missions for those forces.
The U.S. gives weapons directly only to the Iraqi government and the
Iraqi Security Forces, but the lines between them and the militias are blurry. U.S. weapons often fall into the hands
of militias like Iraqi Hezbollah. Sometimes the military cooperation is
even more explicit. Commanders of some of the hardline militias sit in
on U.S. military briefings on operations that were meant for the
government-controlled Iraqi Security Forces, a senior administration
In an email, Omri Ceren of The Israel Project adds:
A parade of horribles. From a political perspective, the U.S. is sharing a base with Iran-backed Shiite militias that killed American troops, which will be toxic publicly and on the Hill. From a military perspective, the U.S. is allowing itself to be spied on by groups that could use that intelligence if they're unleashed on American troops by Iran, which may deter the Obama administration from pressuring Tehran. And from a diplomatic perspective, the scoop will confirm fears across the region that the U.S. is realigning with Iran – or that, at the very least, Washington is literally and figuratively providing fuel for Iran's expansionist campaign across the region:
Read the whole thing
The U.S. is not directly training Shiite units of what are known as the Popular Mobilization Forces... but the U.S. is flying close air support missions for those forces. The U.S. gives weapons directly only to the Iraqi government and the Iraqi Security Forces, but the lines between them and the militias are blurry. U.S. weapons often fall into the hands of militias like Iraqi Hezbollah. Sometimes the military cooperation is even more explicit. Commanders of some of the hardline militias sit in on U.S. military briefings on operations that were meant for the government-controlled Iraqi Security Forces, a senior administration official said... “There’s no real command and control from the central government,” one senior administration official said. “Even if these guys don’t attack us... Iran is ushering in a new Hezbollah era in Iraq, and we will have aided and abetted it.”
The fears have straightforward implications for the viability of any nuclear agreement with Iran.
Everything - everything - relies on Saudi Arabia not nuclearizing in the aftermath of an agreement later this month. If the Saudis take a pass, then maybe a deal can hold for a time. If they purchase a weapon from Pakistan or build a bomb over the medium term, then no force in the world short of a military campaign could prevent the IRGC from matching their capabilities. No one pretends that the Iranians will sit on the sidelines while the Saudis go nuclear. That scenario then becomes the worst of all worlds: the administration will have seeded a polynuclear Middle East, detonated Washington's alliances with its traditional allies, and shredded the sanctions regime - and it won't even have a denuclearized Iran to show for it.
The Saudis have been very clear about their decision calculus: they'll go nuclear not when Iran goes nuclear, but when Riyadh concludes that it's inevitable that the Iranians will go nuclear. They're not going to wait.
The Obama administration has rolled out three arguments for why that's not going to happen, at the risk of losing the ability to rationalize the JCPOA. The first is that the Saudis are too poor to go nuclear, which is difficult to square with the existence of the North Korean program. The second is that the Saudis are too afraid of an international oil embargo to go nuclear, which is an argument that - generously - does not immediately strike analysts as in line with geopolitics as it works in our reality.
The third is that American security assurances to the Gulf - specifically, that Washington will continue to push back against Iranian regional expansionism - will sufficiently reassure that Arab states that they don't have to chart their own course. But those security assurances can't survive revelations that we're aiding Iran in creating the “Hezbollah era in Iran [I think that should be "Hezbollah era in Iraq. CiJ].” And when they do fail the Saudis will go nuclear and the Iranians will back out of the JCPOA to match. Instead of a status quo of no deal and no nukes, it'll be a Middle East of no deal and lots of nukes - and in the meantime, the U.S. will have squandered decades-old alliances and the painstakingly-built international sanctions regime against Iran.
It will be interesting to see if, by tomorrow, the administration has settled on how its intends to address the scenario.
Labels: Barack Hussein Obama, Hezbullah, Iran, Iranian nuclear threat, Iraq, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia