The US Department of Defense said this week that the Iran Militias in Iraq and Syria (IMIS) got engaged in illicit activities over the past few months causing instability and lack of security in Iraq.
In its latest quarterly between October -December 2018 assessment of the mission against ISIS , the office of the inspector general (OIG) said “significant factor affecting Iraq’s security sector is the presence and activities of the IMIS and the destabilizing actions of some elements of the IMIS that are affiliated with or backed by Iran, and which operate outside the control of the Iraqi security institutions. … While the IMIS played a significant role in the defeat of ISIS in Iraq, [U.S.-designated state sponsor of terrorism] Iran’s support to many elements of the IMIS has also allowed Iran to maintain influence in Iraq, and the Iraqi government has been unable to assert centralized control over the IMIS.”
The OIG also accused IMIS of involvement in the region’s drug trade and other illicit activities, “Iran also conducts other illicit activity in Iraq that undermines security and stability. In Basra, the police chief accused Iran of being the source of 80 percent of all drugs in the province.”
It also found that the closure of US consulate in Basra last year due to alleged threats by
Moreover, IMIS represented a threat for the civilian population, particularly the Sunni community, OIG added. Amnesty International accused the Shiite fighters of committing atrocities and war crimes against civilians.
The report indicated to the threat by ISIS saying, “There has been an increase in reports of violence, abuse, and tension in areas patrolled by the PMF, and that these trends will likely continue as long as the PMF competes with local police or other ISF [Iraqi Security Forces] formations for control of territory and influence.”
Late last year, Reuters described the situation near the Syrian border in Anbar province as the “wild west,” highlighting the tension between the Shiite troops and American forces in the area. A strong PMF presence in the area allows the Shiite fighters to provide support to their counterparts in Syria where Iran is backing dictator Bashar al-Assad.
Although the previous report warned against the IMIS threat against the estimated 5,000 American troops in Iraq, the recent report said “While [the U.S. military] stated that Iranian-backed groups in Iraq did not threaten Coalition personnel or facilities this quarter, [the U.S. military] stated that the Iranian presence and provision of aid to Iran-aligned terrorist organizations in Iraq did hamper the counter-ISIS campaign.”
The OIG also found that Iran continues to find ways to fund its terrorist militias in Iraq, saying that the US military “said that Iranian activity in Iraq included the delivery of humanitarian aid and “kinetic aid” to “numerous terrorist organizations operating independently from ISIS in Iraq.” That Iranian assistance, [the U.S. military] reported, allowed those terrorist organizations to be better positioned and equipped to target Coalition and Iraqi government operations.”
It went on saying that the activities by Iran in Iraq forced the U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) to divert resources from the fight against ISIS. “USCENTCOM said that as a result, ISIS was able to reconstitute in areas close to the Iran-Iraq border,” OIG added.
However, U.S. officials consider some IMIS factions, particularly Kata’ib Hezbollah (KH) and Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq (AAH), to be terrorist groups. KH and AAH leaders have repeatedly threatened to attack American troops if they do not leave Iraq.
Trump administration officials have repeatedly urged the Iraqi government to disarm and disband PMF fighters who refuse to integrate with the Iraqi security forces, the OIG said. However, the government began implementing measures to pay IMIS fighters the same rate as Iraqi security forces. “The salaries could result in providing funds to Iran-aligned groups without impacting their loyalties to Iran,” it warned.
In remarks to lawmakers this week, U.S. Gen. Joseph Votel, the top American commander in the Middle East, said the US mission in Iraq remains the defeat of ISIS, not combating Iran and its proxies.