The fragility of the makeshift alliance battling to dislodge the militants of the so-called Islamic State from northwest and central Iraq was highlighted Monday when Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps accused the United States of killing two of its military advisers in a drone strike on the outskirts of the city of Tikrit—an accusation vehemently denied by the Pentagon.
The claim came as U.S. airstrikes in the effort to boost the stalled Iraqi government assault on Tikrit continued to draw the anger of Shia militias that have spearheaded the offensive while the Iraqi army is being reconstituted.
Some Shia militia leaders have withdrawn their forces from Tikrit’s front lines in protest at the American participation and are threatening to shoot at U.S. aircraft. Others have remained in place, saying they are determined that they, not the Americans, will get credit for ousting the Islamic State (also known as ISIS or ISIL) from its strategic position in Tikrit.
Iranian accusations of U.S. strikes killing their advisers is further exposing the deep rifts between Washington, Baghdad, and Tehran and throwing into doubt the chances that the motley and reluctant alliance of Shia militiamen, Iranian advisers, Iraqi soldiers, local Sunni tribesmen, and U.S. pilots can hold together.
An appeal by Iraq’s most revered Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al Sistani, calling for unity among the forces battling ISIS, appears to be having little effect on the ground, with all the participants voicing opposition to each other.
According to the Iranians, the airstrike that killed their men took place on March 23. They identified the dead advisers as Ali Yazdani and Hadi Jafari, saying they were buried Sunday. The accusation was carried on the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps’s own website.
American officials remain adamant that the incident couldn’t have happened, insisting they didn’t conduct any raids that day. They say U.S. airstrikes on Tikrit began on March 25—before that they were only mounting surveillance flights. A spokesman for the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad told the Associated Press: “All airstrikes are carried out through the alliance with the Iraqi government and in full coordination with the [Iraqi] Ministry of Defense.”
The Iranian claim is one of several about misdirected U.S. fire with hints thrown in by Shia militiamen that the targeting is purposeful.
On Sunday, Iran’s official Fars news agency claimed: “The U.S. and coalition forces conducted eight airstrikes near Tikrit, but they hit the popular [Shia] forces’ positions instead of ISIL. This is not the first time that the U.S. has struck the popular forces’ positions in different parts of Iraq.”
On Friday, Iraqi media reported casualties among Iraqi security forces near the University of Tikrit, again allegedly either the result of poorly coordinated U.S. airstrikes or a perfidious move by Washington. The U.S. Embassy in Baghdad denies the media reports, saying, “No coalition airstrikes took place during the time or in the vicinity of these alleged casualties.”
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SOURCE: The Daily Beast