Most recently he has been seen in Tikrit, the hometown of Saddam Hussein now controlled by the Islamic State (also known as ISIS or ISIL), which is under siege by Iran-backed militias. US assistance is nowhere to be found.
“There’s just no way that the US military can actively support an offensive led by Suleimani,” Christopher Harmer, a former aviator in the United States Navy in the Persian Gulf who is now an analyst with the Institute for the Study of War, told Helene Cooper of The New York Times. “He’s a more stately version of Osama bin Laden.”
Nevertheless, the US military sees Iranian involvement as “a positive thing” — as long as Shia-Sunni tensions don’t get out of hand.
“This is the most overt conduct of Iranian support, in the form of artillery and other things,” Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday. “Frankly, it will only be a problem if it results in sectarianism.”
Ali Khedery, who served as a special assistant to five US ambassadors and a senior adviser to three heads of US Central Command between 2003 and 2009, notes that the “fundamental identity” of the Shia militias “is built around a sectarian narrative rather than loyalty to the state.”
During the Iraq War, Suleimani directed “a network of militant groups that killed hundreds of Americans in Iraq,” as detailed by Dexter Filkins in The New Yorker.
Despite evidence that the US and Iraq already have a sectarianism problem, “American war planners have been closely monitoring Iran’s parallel war against the Islamic State … including conversations on radio frequencies that each side knows the other is monitoring,” according to The Times.
American warplanes have provided support for the so-called special groups over the past few months. Ameri told Eli Lake of Bloomberg that the US ambassador to Iraq offered airstrikes to support the Iraqi army and the Badr ground forces. Ameri added that Suleimani “advises us. He offers us information, we respect him very much.”
Lake notes that the overall situation “has placed the US in the strange position of deepening an alliance with the Islamic Republic of Iran for its war against Islamic extremists.”
Making the alliance even stranger is that Suleimani, who has run the Quds force since 1998, is actually connected to bin Laden through Iran’s dealings with Al Qaeda.
As Thomas Joscelyn reports, citing documents captured by the Navy SEALs who raided bin Laden’s safe house in Abbottabad, Pakistan, top Al Qaeda operative Yunis al Mauritani “asked bin Laden for permission to relocate to Iran in June 2010 as he plotted attacks around the world.”
In February 2014, the US Treasury accused Tehran of allowing senior Al Qaeda members in Iran to move Sunni fighters into Syria — even though those Sunni extremists were fighting to oust the regime of staunch Iranian ally Bashar Assad.
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