Pentagon: Iran-backed militia sharing Iraqi base with US troops

Pentagon: Iran-backed militia sharing Iraqi base with US troops
© Getty Images

The Pentagon acknowledged Tuesday that a "handful" of Iran-backed Shiite militia fighters are sharing an Iraqi base in Anbar province where U.S. troops are also stationed. 

Pentagon spokesman Army Col. Steve Warren said the number of militiamen at the Taqaddum air base in Anbar is in the "low double digits" and they have no interaction with American forces. 

"There are some individuals who are working, serving in sort of a liaison capacity, who are members of Shia militias," Warren said Tuesday.

ADVERTISEMENT
The comments come a day after Bloomberg View reported that the Iran-backed forces and U.S. military were sharing a base and that senior U.S. officials were worried about the risk to American troops.

The Obama administration announced earlier this month that 450 U.S. troops would be deployed to the base to help recruit Sunni forces after the fall of Ramadi, the capital of Anbar, to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

Warren said a pre-condition of basing U.S. troops there was that all Shiite militia units at the base would have to leave. Those Shiite forces are now situated outside the camp and banned from the base, he said. 

Those Shiite fighters are part of Iraq's "popular mobilization" forces, groups outside of the Iraqi government that are assisting in the battle against ISIS.

Warren called the Bloomberg report "over-torqued" but said the request for Shiite militias to leave the base was made "in the interest of the safety of our personnel."

He noted that the Taqaddum air base is a large complex, calling it a bit larger than the town of Vienna, Va., in the Washington suburbs.

"The Shia militia representatives who are on Taqaddum and the American forces that are on Taqaddum are separated by space. The government of Iraq is helping to coordinate the separation of these two groups," he said. 

According to the Bloomberg View report, a senior administration official claimed that "representatives of some of the more extreme militias have been spying on U.S. operations" at the base. 

Warren responded that "American forces have had no interaction with these small number of Shia militiamen who are liaising with the government of Iraq there at Taqaddum." 

Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), an Iraq War veteran, in a statement Monday called it "deeply troubling that the President now finds it acceptable to share a military base with this enemy, even while we are attempting to negotiate a deal to keep Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons." 

“When I was a soldier fighting in Iraq, Iran supplied the most advanced, most lethal roadside bombs used against coalition forces," Cotton said. "Many American soldiers lost their lives to Iran’s proxies and Iranian-supplied bombs. Further, Iran is the leading state sponsor of terrorism and has been attacking the United States for decades." 

He added that the Bloomberg View report was a "stark and nearly absurd" demonstration of the Obama administration's "tacit accommodation of Iran's strategic aim of extending its influence in Iraq." 

"It echoes the president's tacit accommodation of Iran's wish to maintain [President] Bashar al-Assad in Syria and his explicit accommodation of Iran's nuclear ambitions," Cotton said.