Shia militia members share base with US troops in Iraq: Pentagon
Pentagon says a number of Shia fighters in ‘liaison capacity’ on air base in Iraq but they have no interaction with US troops
Iraqi fighters of the Shia group Asaib Ahl al-Haq (The League of the Righteous) gesture upon their return to the southern city of Basra, on 14 June 2015. (AFP)
Published date: 24 June 2015 10:42 UTC | Last update: 5 years 4 months ago
WASHINGTON - There are a number of Shia fighters on al-Taqaddum air base in Anbar, Iraq, where the US has recently been stationed to train Sunni forces, the Pentagon confirmed Tuesday.
“There are some individuals who are serving in some sort of liaison capacity who are members of Shia militias,” Pentagon spokesman Col. Steve Warren told reporters.
Describing their number as a "low double digit," Warren said the liaisons and American forces are separated by space and have no interaction.
"The government of Iraq is helping coordination of this separation of these groups,” he added.
Noting that the Shia group is a part of popularly mobilised forces coordinated by the Iraqi government, Warren said the US has applied "force protection measures to mitigate any risk from anything there”.
“There is an inherent risk already in the Anbar province, but I don’t believe that this handful of Shia militia poses an additional risk to our forces over there,” he said.
The Obama administration announced earlier in June that some 450 troops were to be deployed at al-Taqaddum to help recruit Sunni fighters following the fall of the city of Ramadi to the Islamic State (IS) group.
When the US decided to send forces to al-Taqaddum, Warren said one of the conditions was the removal of the Shia militia units from the base.
“As we conduct our broader force protection analysis, we felt that it was in our interest, in the interest of the safety of our personnel to have these militia units to move out of the al-Taqaddum airbase,” he added.
According to a Monday report by Bloomberg View, a senior Obama administration official said that "representatives of some of the more extreme militias have been spying on US operations" at al-Taqaddum.
Republican lawmaker Tom Cotton, a vocal critic of Obama's foreign policy and the ongoing nuclear talks with Iran, said he was troubled by the idea that Iran-supported Shia militia members were sharing a base with US troops.
He said it was "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".
Last week, Iraqi army and militia commanders told Middle East Eye that a breakdown in trust between American forces in Iraq and the Shia-dominated Popular Mobilisation Forces is limiting the role that the US military can play in the war against IS.
"They [US forces] refuse to participate in any battle whenever the (Popular Mobilisation Forces) are involved, and [coalition] air raids near the battlefield end up being shy and ineffective," a federal security adviser linked to the Iraqi Ministry of Defence told MEE on the condition of anonymity.