The United States’ top military official in the Middle East, General Joseph Votel, on Sunday expressed his concerns about the presence of 100,000 plus Shia paramilitary forces in Iraq.
“I share in your concern about Iran and their long- term intentions here. And certainly with the 100,000 plus Shia militia group members [Popular Mobilisation Units] on the ground there, this is extraordinarily — big concern as we move forward on,” General Votel said.
“We are engaged. I know the embassy is well engaged with the government of Iraq as they look to implement a paramilitary force law in their country,” he said. “We certainly have provided advice into that. We’ve given examples of how we apply and employ national guards, and other things here and how we would look at that.”
The US military is especially concerned that the PMU forces could disrupt counter-terror operations.
“Our concern I think with particular aspect is that the paramilitary forces [PMU] that remain behind don’t become duplicative to the counterterrorism service or to the Iraqi army and those types things,” the US General said.
However, he say there is a valid role for the Shia PMU militias if they answer to the Iraqi government, and not Iran.
“There is a valid role for them and that they do answer to the government and that they remain like the other security services in a political entity. And so our very strong focus is in that in that particular area, particularly with respect to the Shia,” Votel said.
According to the top general, Iran’s objective in the region is to be a regional hegemon. “They want to be the predominant power in the region, there’s no doubt about that and I think that’s what they are pursuing,” he warned.