Iran-backed militias near Iraq-Syria border ring alarms

Sunday 04/06/2017
Tension. Iraqi militia fighters ride on a tank in Um Jaris village on the Iraqi border with Syria, on May 29. (Reuters)

London- The approach of Iranian-backed militias from inside Iraq and Syria to­wards the borders of both countries has caused alarm for the United States and its allies in the area who are wary of the geographical connection of pro- Tehran forces.
Iranian-backed Iraqi militias have captured several villages from the Islamic State (ISIS) west of Mosul and south of Sinjar in the province of Nineveh. The move drew con­demnation from Iraq’s semi-auton­omous Kurdistan Regional Govern­ment (KRG), which is worried about the militias being stationed near peshmerga forces.
“This constitutes a threat to se­curity and stability in the liberated areas of Nineveh province,” read a statement from the office of KRG’s President Masoud Barzani in Erbil.
The presence of predominately Shia militias in the border areas is viewed by some Sunni Arabs as an attempt to cut across their commu­nity and prevent them from having geographical unity.
Iraqi militia leaders said control of the border areas would bolster the position of Syrian President Bashar Assad, whose regime is also backed by Tehran.
There are already Iraqi militiamen fighting alongside pro-Assad forces but militia leaders have promised more support to the Syrian regime once they secure the border areas.
At the same time in Syria, Iranian-backed militias supporting Assad have moved towards the border with Iraq, drawing warnings from Washington, which saw their move­ment as a threat to US-backed Syr­ian forces fighting ISIS.
“We have increased our presence and our footprint (around the Syr­ian town of al-Tanf) and prepared for any threat that is presented by the pro-(Assad) regime forces,” said US Army Colonel Ryan Dillon, a Baghdad-based spokesman for the anti-ISIS coalition. “We see that as a threat,” Dillon said.
The presence of US forces in al- Tanf, which is on the Damascus- Baghdad highway, is also aimed at stopping Iran-backed militias from having a corridor between Iraq and Syria, sources told Reuters.
Having the Iraq-Syria border ar­eas under the control of pro-Iranian militias would give Tehran an addi­tional strategic advantage militarily.
Al-Tanf is also close to the border with Jordan, which is also alarmed by the movement of Iranian-backed militias.