Iraqi troops and Iranian-supported Shiite militias launching a large-scale offensive to retake Tikrit from the Islamic State without significant U.S. support is raising red flags.
Regional experts Raymond Tanter and Steven Bucci told FoxNews.com Tuesday they see this week’s military campaign as another sign Iran is trying to gain military influence in Iraq.
There are indications Iran has already entrenched itself in Iraq’s military. “They have advisers embedded with those Shia militias from their Revolutionary Guard Quds Force, kind of like our special forces … it’s not a good level of involvement,” said Bucci, former deputy assistant Secretary of Defense during the George W. Bush administration.
“Iranian influence is a long-term endeavor in Iraq and it’s not just recently; it’s been going on for quite some time,” said Tanter, co-founder of the foreign policy think tank Iran Policy Committee.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reiterated in a speech to Congress Tuesday there is no difference between the Islamic State and Iran. “When it comes to Iran and ISIS, the enemy of your enemy is your enemy.”
Iraqi officials, though, are trying to balance their relationships with both Tehran and Washington.
“Iraq will rely more on Iran if it can, but I don’t think they can trust Iran. The United States will not try to dominate Iraq like Iran will try,” said Tanter. “There aren’t many choices available for the Iraqi government.”
“They [Iraq] would rather rely on us, but the support has been so questionable from the Obama administration and in those Shia militias in particular … that [Iranian] influence is deeply embedded and engrained in every way … that’s problematic for us,” said Bucci, foreign policy studies director at the Heritage Foundation.
He suggests counteracting this. The U.S. doesn’t need to send infantry units, but rather “have our special operations forces embedded with these different units the same way the Quds Force is with the Shia militias.”
Foreign policy analysts are debating whether Iraq should already be considered a client state of Iran.
Bucci is very concerned over Iranian influence. “It’s so pervasive now; it may be too late to back it off.”
While no longer head of the government, former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who now serves as one of the country’s vice presidents and is seen as having strong backing from Tehran, still holds sway over political decisions.
“It’s not a client state yet, but [Iraqi] Prime Minister Abadi has to be careful because Maliki is still there … he has sort of a portfolio to make sure Iran’s bidding is done,” said Tanter.
Chris Snyder is a producer for Fox News based in New York. Follow him on twitter: @ChrisSnyderFox.