Iran Aids Iraq Fight for Oil Refinery 05/23 08:34
Iran has entered the fight to retake a major Iraqi oil refinery from Islamic
State militants, contributing small numbers of troops --some are operating
artillery and other heavy weapons -- in support of advancing Iraqi ground
forces, U.S. defense officials say.
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Iran has entered the fight to retake a major Iraqi oil
refinery from Islamic State militants, contributing small numbers of troops
--some are operating artillery and other heavy weapons -- in support of
advancing Iraqi ground forces, U.S. defense officials say.
Two U.S. defense officials said Iranian forces have taken a significant
offensive role in the Beiji operation in recent days, in conjunction with Iraqi
Shiite militia. The officials were not authorized to discuss the matter
publicly and spoke Friday on condition of anonymity.
One official said Iranians are operating artillery, 122mm rocket systems and
surveillance and reconnaissance drones to help the Iraqi counteroffensive.
The Iranian role was not mentioned in a new U.S. military statement
asserting that Iraqi security forces, with U.S. help, had managed to establish
a land route into the Beiji refinery compound. The statement Friday by the U.S.
military headquarters in Kuwait said Iraqis have begun reinforcing and
resupplying forces isolated inside the refinery compound.
Iran's role in Iraq is a major complicating factor for the Obama
administration as it searches for the most effective approach to countering the
Islamic State group. U.S. officials have said they do not oppose contributions
from Iran-supported Iraqi Shiite militias as long as they operate under the
command and control of the Iraqi government.
Friday's U.S. military statement quoted Brig. Gen. Thomas Weidley as saying
that over the past three days Iraqi security forces and federal police have
made "steady, measured progress" in regaining some areas leading to the Beiji
refinery compound, in the face of suicide vehicle-borne bombs and rocket
attacks. Weidley, chief of staff of the U.S.-led military headquarters in
Kuwait, recently described the oil refinery as a "key infrastructure and
The U.S. statement said Iraqis, enabled by the U.S. and its coalition
partners, have "successfully cleared and established a ground route" into the
refinery to resupply Iraqi troops. It listed U.S. and coalition contributions
as including airstrikes, reconnaissance and the use of "advise and assist
Asked about the newly emerging role of Iranian forces in Beiji, the U.S.
command in Kuwait declined to comment directly, citing "operational security
reasons." It added that all forces involved in Beiji are "aligned with the
government of Iraq" and under the control of Iraqi security forces.
Separately, the Pentagon said Friday that the cost of U.S. military
operations in Iraq and Syria since U.S. airstrikes began in August is $2.44
billion as of May 7.
IS fighters recently gained substantial control over the Beiji oil refinery,
a strategically important prize in the battle for Iraq's future and a potential
source of millions of dollars in income for the militants. They also control
the nearby town of Beiji, on the main route from Baghdad to Mosul, along the
The militants' move on Beiji largely coincided with its successful offensive
in Ramadi, the capital of Anbar province, last week. Iraqi forces withdrew from
Ramadi on Sunday, leaving behind large numbers of U.S.-supplied vehicles,
including several tanks. The U.S. said Friday that its airstrikes in Ramadi
overnight hit an IS fighting unit, destroying five armored vehicles, two tanks
and other military vehicles, as well as nine abandoned tanks and other armored
Together, the Ramadi and Beiji losses have fueled criticism of the Obama
administration's Iraq strategy and prompted the White House to authorize an
acceleration of U.S. weapons transfers to Baghdad, including expedited
shipments of 2,000 shoulder-fired missiles for use against armored suicide
Iran had contributed advisers, training and arms to Iraqi Shiite militias in
an attempt to retake the city of Tikrit in March, but that effort stalled. In
April, after the U.S. joined the effort with airstrikes, Iraqi security forces
and allied Shiite militias succeeded in regaining control of the city.
Tony Cordesman, a Middle East expert at the Center for Strategic and
International Studies, said that while some in Tehran see the advantages of a
Shiite-led Iraqi government that deals equitably with the Sunni and Kurdish
populations in order to achieve national unity, Iranian hardliners do not.
"At best, they are still pursuing a policy of competing with the United
States for military influence over the Iraqi military and police, Shiite
militias, and even influence over Iraq's Kurds," Cordesman wrote in an analysis
published Thursday. "At worst --- and 'at worst' now seems more likely than 'at
best' --- Iran's leaders are seeking an Iraq where Iran has dominant influence"
after the Islamic State threat has been overcome.