MILITARY

With Iran in leading role in battle for Tikrit and US sidelined, where will it lead?

FILE - In this March 3, 2015 file photo, Defense Secretary Ash Carter, left, accompanied by Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey, testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington before the Senate Armed Services Committee. Iran’s growing influence in Iraq is setting off alarm bells, and nowhere is the problem starker than in the high-stakes battle for Tikrit. It marks a crucial fight in the bigger war to expel the Islamic State group from Iraq, and yet Iran and the Shiite militias it empowers _ not the U.S. _ are leading the charge. Carter, under questioning from Sen. John McCain this week, acknowledged his concern when McCain asked if it alarms him that Iran “has basically taken over the fight.” (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta, File)

FILE - In this March 3, 2015 file photo, Defense Secretary Ash Carter, left, accompanied by Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey, testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington before the Senate Armed Services Committee. Iran’s growing influence in Iraq is setting off alarm bells, and nowhere is the problem starker than in the high-stakes battle for Tikrit. It marks a crucial fight in the bigger war to expel the Islamic State group from Iraq, and yet Iran and the Shiite militias it empowers _ not the U.S. _ are leading the charge. Carter, under questioning from Sen. John McCain this week, acknowledged his concern when McCain asked if it alarms him that Iran “has basically taken over the fight.” (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta, File)  (The Associated Press)

Iran's growing influence in Iraq is setting off alarm bells in the Pentagon, and nowhere is the problem starker than in the high-stakes battle for Tikrit.

It represents a crucial fight in the bigger war to expel the Islamic State group from Iraq. And yet, Iran and the Shiite militias it empowers -- not the U.S. -- are leading the charge.

This is a political as well as a military problem for the Obama administration, which is under heavy criticism for negotiating with Iran over limits on its nuclear program.

The battle for Tikrit raises the question: Who is running this war? Iraq? The U.S.? Iran?

Defense Secretary Ash Carter acknowledged in congressional testimony this week that he is alarmed by Iran's growing influence.