Shiite militias backed by Iran are aiding Iraqi forces drawing nearer to Tikrit in the biggest offensive yet to push back Islamic State militants. Iran’s involvement doesn’t sit well with many American allies and puts the U.S., as leader of the coalition, on the spot. Jeffrey Brown reports.
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Now we turn our sights on the battle against the Islamic State group.
Iran's role in fighting the extremists came under increasing focus this week and is prompting fears among U.S. allies.
Jeffrey Brown reports.
The biggest offensive yet to push back Islamic State militants is raging around Tikrit, the birthplace of Saddam Hussein, 110 miles north of Baghdad.
As Iraqi forces draw closer to the city, they're helped not by the U.S., but by Iraqi Shiite militias with Iranian backing. Militia forces have been previously accused of atrocities against Sunnis on land recaptured from the Islamic State.
All of this has renewed hard questions about Iran's influence in Iraq and it's put the U.S. on the spot, as the leader of the coalition against the Islamic State.
Joint Chiefs Chair General Martin Dempsey spoke Tuesday.
GEN. MARTIN DEMPSEY, Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff: This is the most overt conduct of Iranian support in the form of artillery and other things. Frankly, it will only be a problem if it results in sectarianism. If they perform in a credible way, rid the city of Tikrit, turn it back over to its inhabitants, then it will, in the main, have been a positive thing in terms of the counter-ISIL campaign.
The matter is further complicated by unconfirmed reports that General Qassem Suleimani was seen on the battlefield this week. He commands Iran's elite Quds Force, which Washington considers a terrorist organization. He also orchestrated attacks on U.S. forces during the war in Iraq.
Iran's involvement doesn't sit well with many American allies. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu raised the issue during his speech to Congress this week.
BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, Prime Minister, Israel:
When it comes to Iran and ISIS, the enemy of your enemy is your enemy. Iran and ISIS are competing for the crown of militant Islam.
And, just yesterday, Saudi Arabia registered its concerns with Secretary of State John Kerry during his visit to Riyadh.