Saudi Arabia Tells Kerry Iran is Taking Control of the Region as Hundreds of Iranian Fighters Enter Iraq
Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minister, Saud Al-Faisal, told Secretary of State John Kerry in a joint press conference on Thursday that Saudi Arabia is worried about Iran’s regional expansionism and nuclear weapons, pan-Arab newspaper Asharq Al-Awsat reported.
Al-Faisal said that his country, “supports the P5+1 in pursuing a strict regime of inspections which ensures that Iran will not pursue or possess nuclear weapons, meanwhile ensuring its right, and that of all countries in the region, to use nuclear energy peacefully according to IAEA’s requirements and under its supervision, and in connection to that Iran is now taking over Iraq.”
Meanwhile, Al-Jazeera reported that hundreds of Iranian fighters had entered into Iraq’s Diyala Province through the Khanaqin border crossing, under the pretense of fighting ISIS. These fighters were accompanied by what the report called “columns” of transport trucks carrying large amounts of weapons and military equipment.
Sources also added that “hundreds” of 4-wheel drive vehicles, which can hold up to 7 individuals each, crossed in the past two days through the Manthariya border crossing, and continued on towards areas in the Salahuddin Pronvince in Iraq, which over the past four days has witnessed armed confrontations between Iraqi forces supported by Iranian-backed militias called the “Hashd Al-Sha’abi” [Popular Mobilization] and the fighters of ISIS.
The sources elaborated that these columns of military support assembled in the Ashraf Barracks, east of the city of Ba’quba, which in the past had been used by the Mujahideen e-Khalq [MEK] Iranian opposition organization as a headquarters, before they moved to the Salahuddin Province to fight ISIS.
This surge of Iranian fighters into Iraq is meant to reinforce Tehran’s role in fighting ISIS, where the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps- Quds Force’s (IRGC-QF) commander, Gen. Qassem Soleimani, is overseeing the eastern sector of the push into Iraq’s Tikrit.
Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International noted their fears that “massacres” and “revenge killings” would be carried out by the Iranian-backed Shi’a militias against the local Sunni population in Tikrit, as has happened in other Sunni-dominated areas of Iraq that came under their control.
Meanwhile, in Washington, White House spokesman Josh Earnest said the US was aware of the participation of Iranian fighters in this operation against ISIS in Tikrit, and did not negate the possibility of coalition planes participating in the fight against ISIS in Mosul.
Experts have said that the campaign in Tikrit resembles the Iranian military strategy laid down by Iranian advisers in Syria, which helped Syrian president Bashar Al-Assad to regain control over some of the territory that he lost to the armed opposition in that country.
The preparation for the Tikrit attack was extremely precise, starting with armed bulldozers digging up revetments to protect the advancing forces, and – emphasizing the increasingly sectarian nature of the conflict – assigning Shi’a clergymen as well as “ideological guidance” units to give inspirational speeches to the fighters before they entered battle.