U.S. ‘concerned’ if heavy Iranian arms used in Iraq

While the U.S. did not confirm the use of Iranian Fajr-5 artillery rockets and Fateh-110 missiles in Iraq, officials expressed concern

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The United States is concerned about how heavy Iranian weaponry might be used inside Iraq in its latest criticism of the Islamic Republic’s involvement in the neighboring country, a U.S. official told Reuters on Tuesday.

Reuters has previously reported on the alleged presence of Iranian rockets inside Iraq.

But U.S. officials declined to comment on specific Iranian weaponry after The New York Times reported it might include Fajr-5 artillery rockets and Fateh-110 missiles.

One U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the potential use of heavy Iranian weaponry would raise questions about the risk of civilian casualties.

He noted extensive U.S. efforts to ensure precision in its strikes.

“Our primary concern is how any weapons - artillery, rockets or other systems - are employed and the potential for civilian casualties or collateral damage,” a second U.S. official said, declining to comment specifically on Iranian weapons.

The United States has warned that civilian casualties or other abuses by Iraqi forces and Shiite militia against Sunni Iraqis could inflame sectarian tensions, which helped pave the way for Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) group’s advance through Iraq last summer.

U.S. officials are watching with concern as Iraqi militias and regular forces stage an offensive to retake Tikrit, the home city of former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.

Last week, the U.S. military voiced concern over reports that Shiite militias have set fire to homes as they advance on the Iraqi city of Tikrit, although they have not yet confirmed cases of abuse.

At the State Department, spokeswoman Jen Psaki noted that the United States has previously acknowledged Iran’s provision of supplies like arms, ammunition and aircraft to forces in Iraq.

“We continue to emphasize that it’s important that actions don’t raise ... sectarian tensions,” Psaki said, without delving into specifics on Iranian weaponry.

Iraqi forces backed with Shiite volunteers known as the Popular Mobilization units are aiming to fully capture Tikrit.

If Iraq’s Shiite-led government retook Tikrit it would be the first city clawed back from the Sunni insurgents and would give the government momentum in the next, pivotal stage of the campaign: recapturing Mosul, the largest city in the north.

Fight against ISIS may take a generation

In a related story, the battle against ISIS may last a generation, Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop has warned, likening the militants to fanatical followers of Adolf Hitler.

Bishop said the pernicious threat of global terrorism was one that “keeps me awake at night” and urged a strong counter-narrative to the messages of hate and division spread by violent extremists.

“It is crucial that this is not portrayed as a struggle that can be defeated militarily in far flung battlefields. This is a struggle against a malignant idea, a concept, an ideology,” she said in a speech in Canberra late Tuesday.

“We have no choice but to be part of this struggle against extremism in all its forms, both home and abroad, this will take years, decades, potentially a generation -- to resolve.”

Bishop said ISIS, also known as Daesh, used social media to obscure the truth and plant propaganda as she noted a parallel with Hitler’s drive to build a new order to last a millennium.

“Daesh is attempting to emulate this approach with its declaration of a caliphate, claiming to establish a ‘pure’ form of government that will attract the fanatical supporters willing to die for the cause,” she told the Institute of Regional Security.

Australia and other Western countries are grappling with hundreds of citizens who are leaving comfortable lives to become fighters for ISIS in Iraq and Syria, with at least 90 Australians known to be in the conflict zone.

She added: “It is even harder to explain why young women from similar backgrounds would be motivated to join an organization notoriously vicious in its degrading treatment of women and girls.”

(With Reuters and AFP)

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