U.S.-supported victory over ISIS in Iraqi town results in praise for Iran

The Wall Street Journal reports: A big victory over Islamic State here provided fresh ammunition for the many Iraqi Shiites who prefer Iran as a battlefield partner over the U.S., despite indications that Washington could soon intensify its battle against the extremist militants.

Shiite militias and politicians backed by Iran have claimed much of the credit for the Iraqi recapture a little over a week ago of the city and oil refinery of Beiji, about 130 miles north of Baghdad. Militia fighters danced and posed for pictures on tanks and armored cars near the bombed-out shell of the massive refinery there, Iraq’s largest.

But U.S. officers say the Iran-backed proxy militias known as Popular Mobilization Forces, or PMF, played only a supporting role. The bulk of the fighting was by Iraqi federal police and elite counterterrorism units trained by the U.S., the American officers said.

Still powerful Iraqi politicians and militia leaders have cited the yearlong operation to retake the city as evidence that Iraqis can combat Islamic State alone—or with help only of the Iran-backed militias. Some are now lobbying Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi to rely less on the U.S.-led coalition battling Islamic State and more on the PMF.

“Iraqi people in general, not only us, have started to feel that the Americans are not serious at all about the fight against Islamic State,” said Moeen Al- Kadhimi, a spokesman for the Iran-backed Badr Corps militia. “Every victory that the PMF does without the help of the Americans is a big embarrassment for the Americans.”

Following the declaration of victory at Beiji, the U.S.-led coalition, which has been conducting an air campaign against Islamic State in Iraq and Syria for more than a year, published a list of airstrikes it conducted around the city.

“It’s easy to say after the fact that ‘we did this,’ ” said Maj. Michael Filanowski, an officer for the Combined Joint Task Force, which organizes operations of the U.S.-led coalition. “But if you look at the sequence of events, it was Iraqi security forces that did the assault operations.”

He called the militias a “hold force,” meaning they secured the territory after it fell to the Iraqi forces. [Continue reading…]

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