WASHINGTON – Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis on Thursday accused Iran of funneling money into Iraq to influence the outcome of the elections, calling it a part of a larger pattern of destabilizing Iranian action in the Middle East.
Mattis refused to say what the outcome of Iran has been targeted allegedly by intervening in Iraq, but he said that Tehran is sending “not an insignificant amount of money” to sway votes. He called no dollar amounts.
Iran is seen by many as gaining more influence in Iraq during the period of instability after the takeover of a large part of northern and western Iraq by the Islamic State militants in 2014. The IS militants are now largely defeated, but the Iraqi political stability still hangs in the balance.
“We have worrying evidence that Iran is trying to influence with the help of money — the Iraqi elections,” Mattis told reporters flying with him to Washington from the Persian Gulf island state of Bahrain, where he discussed Iran and other issues with high-level officials.
“That money is used,” he said, “to sway candidates to swing the votes — not an insignificant amount of money, we believe, and it is very useful.”
“We know that they are doing what they can to reduce the impact of the elections, and we don’t like it.”
Iran’s political influence in Iraq has grown since the US invasion to remove President Saddam Hussein in 2003, marking the beginning of a prolonged period of sectarian discord, extremist violence and political strife.
The US still has more than 5,000 troops in Iraq to support its fight against remaining pockets of resistance. Iran-backed Shia militias have also fought, sometimes in cooperation with Baghdad, and sometimes not.
Mattis sharp criticism of what he called Iranian meddling elsewhere in the Middle East. He said that Tehran is supplying ammunition and explosive fighters in Syria and supporting rebels in Yemen.
He said that the strait between the Red Sea and the Arabian Sea, off the coast of south Yemen, is used as a “testing ground” for the advanced Iranian weapons. This includes anti-ship missiles, radars, mines, missiles, and explosive boats, ” he said.
On the other hand, Iran has stopped the run of what the U.S. calls challenging and dangerous maneuvers against U.S. Navy ships in the Persian Gulf, Mattis said.
“It is just an outlier, and I don’t know why,” he said. “They don’t seem to be involved in the same provocative behaviour” in the Gulf as they were before last summer.
Navy Cmdr. William Urban said earlier Thursday that there is no “unsafe and unprofessional” actions by the Iranian navy in the Gulf since August of 2017. Urban is a spokesman of the U. S. Naval Forces Central Command in Manama, Bahrain.
Prior to that, Iranian ships had to regularly high-speed approaches to the AMERICAN ships that were regarded as dangerous provocations.
“It seems that they have really made a conscious choice to give us more space,” Urban said. “That is definitely a change in their behavior.”
The latest thrilling encounter between the U.S. Navy and Iranian forces in the Persian Gulf, was recorded on Aug. 14, 2017, an unarmed Iranian drone shadow the USS Nimitz aircraft carrier in the night and came close enough to the F-18 fighter jets to the lives of American pilots in danger, the Navy said at the time.
The drone did not respond to repeated radio calls, and came within 1000 feet (300 metres) of the AMERICAN fighters. In a similar meeting Aug. 8, the Navy said an Iranian drone came within 100 feet (30 meters) of an F-18 preparing to land on the Nimitz.
For the first eight months of 2017, the Navy included 14 instances of what she describes as ‘unsafe and/or unprofessional” interactions with Iranian forces. The included 35 in 2016 and 23 in 2015.
The incidents at sea are almost always accompanied by the Revolutionary Guard, a paramilitary unit that reports only to the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Some analysts believe that the incidents are intended in part to squeeze moderate President Hassan Rouhani’s administration after 2015 nuclear deal.
Of the incidents at sea last year, the worst involved Iranian forces capture and hold the night 10 AMERICAN sailors who strayed into the Islamic Republic’s territorial waters.
Iranian forces, in their turn, accuse the U.S. Navy of unprofessional conduct, in particular in the Strait of Hormuz, the mouth of the Persian Gulf, through which a third of all oil traded by sea.
Associated Press writer Jon Gambrell in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, contributed to this report.