The Iraqi government’s effort to integrate a Shia militia group in the country’s security forces is concerning as it might increase Iran’s influence with Baghdad, a US general said Wednesday.
“It will increase obviously Shia — potentially Iranian — influence over the government of Iraq and we have to be concerned about it,” the head of Central Command, Gen. Joseph Votel said during a panel discussion at the Foreign Policy Initiative, a neoconservative Washington-based think tank.
Iraq’s parliament passed a law last weekend that formally recognized controversial Iran-backed Shia militia group, Hashed Al Shaabi, as an “independent military entity” operating within the Iraqi Army.
Votel believes the nuclear deal inked between the world powers and Iran last year did not help change Tehran’s actions such as sponsoring terror groups and fueling sectarian conflicts.
“It is implemented appropriately but it addresses only one of our concerns,” he said of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.
Votel said since the deal, Iran has sponsored more than 100,000 Shia militias in conflicts, including in Yemen and Iraq.
“I would probably say there is a little bit of uptick,” he said.
Votel also indicated that military-to-military relations between the US and Egypt did not slow following a military coup by Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in 2013.
“Frankly I think the military-to-military relationship like all other relationships has its highs and has its lows but I think it remained pretty steady,” he said.
Votel’s comments follow severe criticism by Washington of Egypt’s military’s crackdown on hundreds of demonstrators and arrests of thousands of others, including political leaders and activists, in the wake of the coup.
The general also commended Turkey’s efforts to help his command that is leading the anti-Daesh fight.
“Recently, we could not do the things that we are been doing, particularly in Syria, without the support we get from Turkey on a daily basis,” he said.
Like others in the region, Turkey has concerns, he said, noting the US should recognize Turkey’s concerns about the PKK and Daesh terror groups.
Turkey has opened its bases to the US-led coalition and launched Operation Euphrates Shield in August in support of moderate Syrian opposition groups against Daesh in northern Syria.
Two Turkish soldiers were allegedly captured Tuesday by Daesh. The deputy commander of anti-Daesh coalition, British Maj. Gen. Jones Rupert, told reporters via a video conference from Baghdad the coalition would help Turkey recover the soldiers.
He did not elaborate about what kind of support the coalition would provide.