Around 80,000 Iran-backed Shi’ite militia members are currently operating in Iraq, a U.S. military official told Fox News on Tuesday.
Baghdad-based military spokesman Col. Chris Garver explained that there are approximately 100,000 Shi’ite militia members fighting ISIS in Iraq, with the number backed by Iran “usually identified at around 80,000.”
“The effect of the Obama administration’s policy has been to replace American boots on the ground with the Iranians,” Thomas Joscelyn, a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, told Fox. “As Iran advances, one anti-American actor is being replaced with another.”
Qassem Soleimani, the commander of Iran’s elite Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps-Qods Force, is reported to be stationed near Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city, in an attempt to retake the area from ISIS, which has controlled it for the past two years. Analysts believe that he plays a major role in directing Iraqi militias.
Soleimani is banned from international travel due to United Nations Security Council resolutions. He was also designated as a terrorist by the United States in 2005 and implicated in the failed 2011 plot to assassinate Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the United States. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford said at his confirmation hearing last year that forces under Soleimani’s command had killed at least 500 American troops in Iraq
The Long War Journal reported last month that Iraqi Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi had incorporated the Popular Mobilization Forces, which include some of the largest Shi’ite militias, into the Iraqi army. The Journal’s Bill Roggio and Amir Toumaj wrote that will essentially “institutionaliz[e] Tehran’s influence in the country.”
Military analyst Michael Pregent noted last year that due to the incorporation of Iran-backed Shi’ite militias into Iraq’s defensive structure, the United States Air Force is “attacking ISIS from the air in support of these Iranian proxies. In other words, despite official denials, we are now inadvertently fighting side-by-side with Iranian forces in Iraq.”
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