Joint Chiefs chairman Martin Dempsey argues that Tehran's involvement is only a problem 'if it results in sectarianism'
general dempsey
© AFP/Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
General Martin Dempsey testifies before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Capitol Hill, in Washington, DC, on September 16, 2014.
Iran's direct support for an Iraqi push to dislodge the Islamic State group from the northern city of Tikrit could turn out to be "a positive thing" if it does not inflame sectarian tensions, the top US general said Tuesday.

The statement by Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, reflected the delicate balance Washington is trying to strike between limiting Iranian influence and allowing Iraqi leaders to determine their own path to defeating the Islamic State.

US officials have said Iraq did not ask the US to provide air support for the Tikrit offensive, even though the US-led military coalition has been conducting airstrikes in much of Iraq since August and has deployed hundreds of US soldiers to try to regenerate an Iraqi army that collapsed last June.

Dempsey said Iran and its proxies have been operating inside Iraq since 2004, but the Tikrit campaign signals a new level of involvement.

"This is the most overt conduct of Iranian support, in the form of artillery and other things," Dempsey said in response to questions from members of the Senate Armed Services Committee. "Frankly, it will only be a problem if it results in sectarianism."

Comment: Which it didn't. Iraq's PMU militias - since then incorporated into its formal military command structure - are non-denominational.

He said that about two-thirds of the force seeking to retake Tikrit is comprised of Iranian-based Shiite militia fighters. Iraqi government troops make up the other third. Tikrit, the hometown of former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, is a predominantly Sunni city.

Comment: No, with the exception of relatively few Iranian advisors, they're IRAQI fighters.

"If they perform in a credible way" and rid Tikrit of Islamic State control, "then it will, in the main, have been a positive thing in terms of the counter-ISIL campaign," Dempsey said.

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