Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said, “We have worrisome evidence that Iran is trying to influence — using money — the Iraqi elections.”
“We know that they are doing what they can to impact the elections, and we don’t like it.”
Iran’s political influence in Iraq has grown since the United States invaded to remove President Saddam Hussein in 2003, marking the start of a prolonged period of sectarian division, extremist violence and political strife.
The United States still has more than 5,000 troops in Iraq supporting its fight against remaining pockets of resistance by the Islamic State, also known as ISIS. Iranian-backed Shiite militia groups also have fought ISIS, sometimes in coordination with Baghdad and sometimes not.
Mr. Mattis sharply criticized what he called Iranian meddling elsewhere in the Middle East. He said Tehran was providing ammunition and explosives to fighters in Syria and supporting rebels in Yemen.
He said the strait between the Red Sea and the Arabian Sea, off the coast of southern Yemen, was being used as a “proving ground” for advanced Iranian weaponry. This includes anti-ship missiles, mines and ballistic missiles, he said.
On the other hand, Iran has stopped conducting what the United States called provocative and dangerous maneuvers against United States Navy ships in the Persian Gulf, Mr. Mattis said.
“It’s like an outlier, and I don’t know why,” he said. “They don’t seem to be engaging in the same provocative behavior” in the Persian Gulf as they were before last summer.
Cmdr. William Urban of the Navy said earlier Thursday that there had been no “unsafe and unprofessional” actions by Iranian naval forces in the Persian Gulf since August 2017. Commander Urban is a spokesman for United States Naval Forces Central Command in Manama, Bahrain.
Before that, Iranian vessels had periodically made high-speed approaches to American ships that were considered dangerous provocations.
“It seems like they’ve absolutely made a conscious decision to give us more space,” Commander Urban said. “That is definitely a change in their behavior.”
Iran,Iraq,Middle East,Persian Gulf,Elections,Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS),United States Navy