(CNSNews.com) – Iran’s semi-official Fars news agency took issue Monday with a statement by the U.S.-led coalition highlightingits support for Iraqi forces’ successful operation to recapture the city of Ramadi from the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS/ISIL).
Coalition spokesman U.S. Army Col. Steve Warren credited the Iraqi army, air force, counter-terrorism service, police, and tribal fighters for the achievement, but also noted that “the coalition has provided steadfast support to the Iraqi government to enable them to fight and win against ISIL.”
He went on to outline some of that support, including training, provision of specialized equipment to clear bombs, and “more than 630 airstrikes.”
Fars’ report was little more than a recitation of Warren’s statement, but it also indicated disapproval for the reference to the coalition’s role in the ousting of ISIS from Ramadi, the capital of Anbar province.
“Although the international coalition led by America has not achieved much, Warren claimed that ‘the coalition has provided steadfast support to the Iraqi government to enable them to fight and win against ISIL,’” the Iranian agency said.
Iran is an ally of Iraq’s Shi’ite-led government and the Assad regime in Syria, and Iranian-backed Shi’ite militias are deeply involved in the fight against the Sunni jihadists of ISIS in both Iraq and Syria. The U.S. has acknowledged that Major General Qassem Soleimani, commander of Iran’s Islamic Revolution Guards Corps-Qods Force has played a key role.
Iranian-supported militias were involved during the early stages of a month-long battle to retake Tikrit from ISIS last spring, with Soleimani coordinating those efforts. Saddam Hussein’s hometown in Salahuddin province was eventually liberated, although only after Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi requested U.S. airstrikes.
Soleimani was rumored late last month to have been badly injured by ISIS in Aleppo, Syria.
In recent days, some Iranian media outlets have run photos of Soleimani, purportedly in discussions with Iraqi commanders “in Anbar province.” It’s not known when or where the photo was taken.
The Fars news agency’s grumbling about the part played by the U.S.-led coalition in the battle for Ramadi comes against a backdrop of conspiracy theories, propagated by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei himself, about collusion between the U.S. and ISIS, which the supreme leader has gone so far as to call a U.S. creation.
In a statement congratulating Iraqi “military and popular forces” for driving ISIS out of Ramadi, Iranian Armed Forces’ chief of staff Major General Hassan Firouzabadi made no mention of a coalition role in the accomplishment.
A commentary published by Fars rejected the notion that the U.S. had helped in Ramadi.
“Iraqi army and volunteer forces set the strategic city of Ramadi free, and showed that they can defeat ISIL everywhere with no need to [sic] the U.S.”
It said Iraqi forces, “backed by Iranian military advisers,” had recaptured the city’s government compound “without any help from the War Party and its ‘Coalition of Unwilling.’”
In another conspiracy theory aired last week, Fars reported on claims that the U.S. was seeking to evacuate ISIS leaders covertly from Ramadi ahead of the Iraqi assault.
“The delay in operations to liberate Ramadi and Fallujah cities in al-Anbar province is the result of the U.S. interference,” Fars quoted the commander of an Iranian-backed Shi’ite militias, the “Imam Khamenei Battalion,” as saying.
“It seems that the U.S. intends to evacuate the ISIL terrorist group’s infamous ringleaders secretly from Ramadi to unknown places,” the militia leader added.
Meanwhile, State Department spokesman Mart Toner said the U.S. and 17 other members of the coalition have been involved in Iraqi training, advise and assist missions; 12 coalition members have carried out more than 6,000 airstrikes in Iraq, including more than 630 in support of the Ramadi operation alone.
In addition, 19 coalition members provided aircraft, including transport, surveillance, and aerial refuelers, he said.
“So there was a lot of support, a lot of active air support provided to the Iraqi troops who retook the city.”
U.S. Central Command commander Gen. Lloyd Austin in a statement congratulated Iraqi forces – “enabled by the efforts of the international coalition” – for their achievement in Ramadi.
Austin said the jihadists were “losing momentum as they steadily cede territory.”
“Looking ahead, I expect our partners on the ground in both Iraq and Syria, with coalition assistance, to continue to roll back ISIL gains as we work together to defeat this enemy.”