US defense chief Mattis slams Iran for ‘mucking around’ in Iraq elections

An Iraqi supporter of Moqtada Al-Sadr raises a sign showing the colors of the Iraqi flag superimposed on a hand flashing the victory gesture with a caption in Arabic reading at the bottom ‘million-man march, reformist, electoral, walking towards reform,’ during a demonstration in Baghdad against corruption in the Iraqi government on March 2. (AFP)
Updated 17 March 2018
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US defense chief Mattis slams Iran for ‘mucking around’ in Iraq elections

ABOARD A US MILITARY AIRCRAFT: US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis lambasted Iran on Thursday for “mucking around” in Iraq’s upcoming elections in a bid to sway votes toward pro-Tehran candidates.
Speaking to reporters as he returned from a trip to Oman, Afghanistan and Bahrain, Mattis said officials he met with had expressed frequent concerns about Iranian behavior.
“One thing that came through loud and clear is the suspicion of Iran and the evidence of Iranian destabilizing efforts,” said Mattis, a longtime Iran hawk.
“I heard it when I was up in Afghanistan. You know what’s going on in terms of Iran’s support to Assad. Now Iran is following Russia’s example (and) mucking around in Iraq’s elections,” Mattis said, referring to Syrian President Bashar Assad.
“It was just brought home to me again that they are not changing their behavior, they are continuing to be a destabilizing influence,” Mattis added.
The Pentagon chief said he would not speculate as to whether Iran’s efforts were having any impact on the Iraqi electorate ahead of the May parliamentary and provincial assembly elections.
“Iran is trying to influence, using money, the Iraqi elections. That money is being used to sway candidates, to sway votes,” he said.
“Iran should leave the Iraqis to determining their own future,” said Mattis.
Despite increased rhetoric from Washington about Iran’s activities in the region and US President Donald Trump’s continual railing against the Iran nuclear deal, Mattis noted that Iranian naval vessels in the Gulf have become less provocative toward US ships.
He said ships from both the regular Iranian navy and the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps have curtailed the sorts of incidents that had become almost routine over the past few years, and are now staying away from American vessels.
“In the Gulf itself, they are not coming in as close to our ships, the provocative actions in the Gulf seem to have relented somewhat,” Mattis said.
“They are not doing as many bellicose confrontations and that sort of thing.”
Commander Bill Urban, a spokesman for the Navy’s Bahrain-based Fifth Fleet, said there had been no “unsafe or unprofessional” interactions with the Iranians at sea since Aug. 14, 2017, when an Iranian drone with no lights on flew close to US aircraft operating in the Gulf.
Urban told reporters that “a substantial period time” has passed since then, “something that we think is great.”
He said there has been “an across-the-board change in behavior.”
Last year and in 2016, the US Navy frequently complained about the behavior of Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps vessels, which would often shadow and steer toward American ships.
In at least one incident, US sailors had to fire flares and warning shots before the Iranians turned away.
Urban said that since then, the Iranians have stopped approaching so closely.
Mattis said that off the Yemen coast around the Bab-El-Mandab strait, Iran is testing a number of offensive capabilities.
“It’s where you find (Iran’s) radars, their ballistic missiles, anti-ship cruise missiles,” Mattis said.
“We’ve found their mines, their explosive boats all being tested, increased capability being demonstrated down there.”
The Fifth Fleet and its associated task forces continually patrol the Gulf and inspect some of the ships passing through the region. In 2016, sailors seized weapons apparently headed from Iran to Yemen, including machine guns and rocket launchers.
Urban said task forces this year have confiscated record amounts of heroin, much of which may have been grown in Afghanistan to fund the Taliban.
The Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps is a paramilitary force that answers directly to the country’s supreme leader. In January 2016, the Iranians briefly captured the crew of two small US patrol boats that strayed into Iranian waters. The 10 US sailors were released 24 hours later.


More than 85 Houthis killed in battles across Yemen

Updated 17 February 2019
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More than 85 Houthis killed in battles across Yemen

  • More than 40 militants were killed in the southern Taiz province, and 18 others were killed on the Damt front in the southern Ad Dali province
  • Scores of militants were wounded, while the army seized military-grade equipment and ammunition.

DUBAI: More than 85 Iran-backed Houthi militants were killed and more wounded in clashes with the Yemeni army supported by the Arab Coalition across the country on Saturday, Saudi state-news agency SPA reported.

According to the reports, more than 40 militants were killed in the southern Taiz province, and 18 others were killed on the Damt front in the southern Ad Dali province, while more than 30 were killed in clashes with the Hajour tribe northwest of the country.

Scores of militants were wounded, while the army seized military-grade equipment and ammunition.

Meanwhile, Yemen’ Deputy Foreign Minister Mohammad al-Hadrami said that the continued conflict stirred by the Houthis threatens the Swedish peace agreement and any progress in the political process.

In a meeting with UAE’s Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Dr. Anwar Gargash on the sidelines of the 55th session of the Munich Conference of Security 2019, Al-Hadrami said that the continued Houthi manipulation represents the failed opportunities for peace in Yemen.

For his part, UAE’s Gargash stressed on the need to combine efforts and send clear messages to the international community revealing the truth behind the militia’s violations on the ground.