This footage shows vehicles from the Iranian regime’s Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) accompanying sectarian Shiite militias entering Kirkuk, with the vehicles clearly carrying Iranian missile launchers. This comes after CIA director Mike Pompeo confirmed last Thursday (October 19, 2017) that a senior commander of the IRGC was present in Kirkuk when it was taken over by Iraqi army troops, further indicating Iranian regime involvement in the capture of the city from Kurdish forces.
Speaking in an interview staged by the Foundation for the Defence of Democracies on Thursday, the CIA director said that he was fully aware of IRGC leader Qassem Suleimani’s presence in Kirkuk.
Questioning Pompeo about Qassem Suleimani’s presence there, Juan C. Zarate, the chairman of the FDD’s Center on Sanctions and Illicit Finance (CSIF), said, “When we talk about pushing back, what does that mean from your perspective, because I reflect on Qassem Suleimani, the head of the IRGC, the Revolutionary Guard Corps, sort of showing up in all of the wrong places at all of the wrong times from a U.S. perspective? He was just in Kirkuk in the middle of this conflict.”
Pompeo responded drily “I’m aware of that,” before suggesting that the best response to the IRGC’s destructive regional activities is to deploy “all the tools available of U.S. power, so I’ll begin with a handful…It has been far too inexpensive for the Iranians to conduct this adventurism. We should raise the cost of that. The agency has an incredibly important role there.”
Pompeo’s statement was in stark contrast to claims earlier in the week from senior US military officials involved in the coalition again the ISIS, who claimed they had seen no sign of any Iranian military presence or of their affiliated militias during the seizure of the city from Kurdish forces. One official, Operation Inherent Resolve spokesman Army Col. Ryan Dillon, stated that there was no evidence of any Iranian involvement in the events in Kirkuk at the weekend.
“Those are Iraqi Security Force elements, like the counterterrorism service, the federal police,” said Col. Dillon, adding, “We don’t have any reports or any indications that there are units in and around Kirkuk of the elements [from the PMU or Iran].”
The spokesperson of the National Security Council did admit, however, that the IRGC and ISIS would be the main beneficiaries of any kind of prolonged conflict between Iraqi and Kurdish forces, both of which have been instrumental in combating ISIS with U.S. support.
The NSC spokesperson told Voice of America, “The biggest winners from further tensions would be ISIS and the IRGC — an outcome we should all want to avoid.”
There is now heated debate over whether or not Iran played any role in the seizure of Kirkuk, with Michael Rubin asserting in The Washington Examiner that Iran had nothing to do with Kirkuk, while Ranj Alaaldin points out in an article in Foreign Policy magazine that Iran is the backer of the Shia militias working with Iraqi forces.