Watchdog: US-Iran tensions 'probably sowed doubt' among Iraqi forces that US support would continue

Watchdog: US-Iran tensions 'probably sowed doubt' among Iraqi forces that US support would continue
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U.S. tensions with Iran that played out in Iraq “probably sowed doubt” among Iraqi forces about their relationship with the U.S.-led coalition fighting ISIS, according to a watchdog report released Wednesday.

Quoting from answers it received from the Pentagon’s office of the undersecretary for policy, international security affairs, the lead inspector for Operation Inherent Resolve reported Wednesday the fallout from the U.S. drone strike that killed a top Iranian general “‘probably sowed doubt within the ISF [Iraqi Security Forces]’ about whether the coalition would continue providing support in the future.”

The office also told the inspector general the coalition “restarted its full range of support to the ISF as force protection concerns allowed, but indicated that the increase in tensions with Iran and its proxies complicated the relationship between [the coalition] and the ISF.”

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U.S.-Iran tensions started spiking in Iraq in December after U.S. officials blamed an Iran-backed militia for a rocket attack that killed a U.S. contractor.

Tensions then skyrocketed at the beginning of the year following the U.S. drone strike that killed Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani while he was at the Baghdad International Airport. Iran responded with a missile strike on two Iraqi military bases housing U.S. troops, injuring more than 100 U.S. troops.

In March, U.S. officials blamed the Iran-backed militia for another rocket attack in Iraq that killed two U.S. troops. The U.S. military responded with airstrikes on militia weapons caches.

The U.S.-Iran tensions prompted the U.S. military to prioritize force protection and in turn pause training and support to the Iraqi forces in the fight against ISIS in January.

The coalition told the inspector general “that relationships with Iraqi counterparts suffered because of the pause in U.S. operations against ISIS,” according to the report.

“It said that while most relationships with the ISF resumed when the pause ended, they did not resume to ‘pre-pause levels,’” the report added.

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The report is the latest sign of U.S.-Iran tensions affecting the U.S.-Iraqi relationship.

In January, Iraq’s parliament passed a nonbinding resolution calling for the expulsion of U.S. troops from the country. 

“Iranian-aligned factions within the Iraqi government also sought to evict U.S. forces from Iraq over the strike, but these efforts appear to have stalled due to Iraq’s ongoing political crisis,” the Wednesday report said.

Iraq struggled to choose a new prime minister for months following the resignation of Adel Abdul Mahdi in response to protests. The political crisis was resolved last week when the Iraqi parliament approved as prime minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi, an ex-intelligence chief who has U.S. backing.