Dempsey worried about Iran role in Tikrit assault
Dempsey said once the fight against ISIS ends, Iran-backed militias could undermine efforts to unify Iraq
General Martin Dempsey, the top U.S. military officer who visited Baghdad this week, told a Senate hearing on Wednesday that there was no doubt the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) would be pushed out of Tikrit, but that “the question is what comes after.”
Voicing concern about treatment of Sunni Muslims by the overwhelmingly Iran-backed Shi'ite attacking force, Dempsey said: “The question is what comes after, in terms of their willingness to let Sunni families move back into their neighborhoods, whether they work to restore the basic services that are going to be necessary, or whether it results in atrocities and retribution.
He said while Iran is playing a helpful role against ISIS militants in Iraq now, once the extremists are vanquished, Tehran-backed militias could undermine efforts to unify the country.
“There's no doubt that the combination of the Popular Mobilization forces and the Iraqi security forces, they're going to run ISIL out of Tikrit,” Dempsey told a Senate hearing, using an acronym for the militant group.
“The question is what comes after, in terms of their willingness to let Sunni families move back into their neighborhoods, whether they work to restore the basic services that are going to be necessary, or whether it results in atrocities and retribution.”
The ongoing offensive on Tikrit is the most visible demonstration yet of how the United States and Iran, which dueled viciously over Iraq during the years of U.S. occupation, seem to be working in tandem against ISIS.
Dempsey said the forces advancing on Tikrit were overwhelmingly composed of 20,000 Iranian-backed Shi'ite Muslim militias known as Hashid Shaabi (Popular Mobilization) units.
“I would describe them as Iranian-trained and somewhat Iranian equipped,” Dempsey said, adding he had no indications they intended to attack the nearly 3,000 American forces now stationed in Iraq.
In addition, there was an Iraqi brigade of about 3,000 troops as well as a couple of hundred forces from the Iraqi counter-terrorist service, Dempsey said.
Dempsey, fresh back from a trip to Iraq this week, said the outcome of Tikrit would speak volumes about whether Iran would use its influence in Iraq constructively.
“The Tikrit operation will be a strategic inflection point one way or the other in terms of easing our concerns or increasing them,” he said.