Congress Threatens to Withhold Arms from Baghdad

By Bryant Harris for Al Monitor. Any opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News. 

Congress is threatening to stop sending weapons to Baghdad after reports today that Iraqi forces and Iran-backed Shiite militias are shooting at US-friendly Kurdish forces in northern Iraq.

Iraqi federal troops moved overnight to take control of Kirkuk and its surrounding oil fields following last month’s disputed independence referendum. Kurdish peshmerga fighters have accused the Shiite-dominated Popular Mobilization Units (PMU) of using US-supplied Abrams tanks (pictured) and Humvees in the offensive, sparking outrage among US lawmakers who have long worried about US equipment ending up in Iranian-friendly hands.

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain, R-Ariz., issued a statement calling on Iraqi forces to “take immediate steps to de-escalate this volatile situation by ceasing their advances.”

“I am especially concerned by media reports that Iranian and Iranian-backed forces are part of the assault,” wrote McCain. “Make no mistake, there will be severe consequences if we continue to see American equipment misused in this way.”

Rep. Trent Franks, R-Ariz., who sits on the House Armed Services Committee and has introduced a resolution supporting Kurdish independence from Iraq, went further by suggesting that the United States should cut off financial support to Baghdad.

“I urge Iraqi Prime Minister [Haider] al-Abadi to fulfill his pledge to prevent any external or internal attack against the Kurds and prove Baghdad is not the puppet of Tehran,” Franks said in a statement. “Otherwise, the US will have no other choice but to pull funding as it cannot in good conscience send money to an Iranian patsy working to subvert American interests.”

The concern is bipartisan. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., also expressed his outrage after issuing a statement strongly supportive of Kurdish independence following last month’s referendum.

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