The United States has been illegally training, arming, and funding Iranian-controlled militant forces in Iraq, according to a delegation of lawmakers who accused the Trump administration on Wednesday of violating a law barring such activity.
Information provided to lawmakers and viewed by the Free Beacon appears to show Iranian-controlled militants in Iraq using American-provided weaponry, including M1 Abrams tanks, which would require specific training from U.S. forces.
Lawmakers provided additional photographs of what they claim are Iranian-backed fighters cashing in on U.S. military training programs in Iraq during a press conference organized by Rep. Ron DeSantis (R., Fla.) outside of the Capitol.
The lawmakers cited this as a direct violation of the Leahy Law, which bars U.S. military assistance to foreign forces that violate human rights, and called on the Trump administration to immediately take steps to halt these programs.
Each of the lawmakers, experts, and military veterans in attendance at the press conference urged the Trump administration to cease aiding these Iranian militias and take greater steps to arm and support Kurdish forces in Iraq, who have long served as an ally of the U.S. in the region.
Rep. Duncan Hunter (R., Calif.), a Marine veteran who served in Iraq, displayed pictures of what he claimed were Iranian-backed Hezbollah militants in Iraq driving an American-provided M1 Abrams tank.
"A picture is worth 1,000 words," Hunter said. "There is an M1 Abrams tank with a Hezbollah flag. I don't care what the State Department says, they can't argue with this."
Hunter and others criticized the State Department and senior officials who carried over from the former Obama administration for continuing to push policies that embolden the Iranians.
Lawmakers singled out Brett McGurk, the Special Presidential Envoy for the Global Coalition to Counter ISIS, as playing a key role in enabling policies that help arm Iranian backed forces.
McGurk, also a senior official in the Obama administration, has long been viewed as a controversial figure due to his 2008 affair with a Wall Street Journal reporter while the pair were stationed in Iraq.
"At the best the State Department has been derelict in their duties, and at the worst they've been complicit with helping the Iranians take back what I, and my brothers in arms, fought for," Hunter said.
The lawmakers also displayed pictures of what he claimed was Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps Commander Qasem Soleimani with top U.S.-backed Iraqi militia leaders.
"Here's the IRGC commander with the militias that we’re equipping and training and sending into combat," Hunter said, adding that these forces are moving on America's Kurdish allies.
"We're equipping and training the wrong people," Hunter said. "The State Department is going to lose us Iraq again, in one of the worst ways."
The current training policies are helping Iran gain control over the region and aiding its pursuit of a land bridge through Syria.
"They're going to be able to drive M1 tanks from Iran to the Israeli border south of Damascus if we don't do something to stop this," Hunter warned, adding that, in his view, President Donald Trump is not aware of how dire the situation currently is.
"This has to get above the State Department," he said. "I don't think President Trump knows what's going on here. I don't think he's seen this picture of his tank, as Commander in Chief, with the Hezbollah flag on it."
Hunter was more confident that State was aware of the situation, however.
"I guarantee you the State Department knows what's going on and its time for them to get their heads out of the sand," he said.
A State Department official who spoke to the Free Beacon denied that any such training is taking place.
"The U.S.-led International Coalition is in Iraq to support the Iraqi Government in the al-Qaim Liberation operation and the overall military defeat of ISIS in Iraq," the official said. "As such, the Coalition provides support, through the Government of Iraq, to vetted forces, including vetted tribal forces."
"However, the Coalition does NOT provide support to groups or forces that are designated terrorist organizations, or that do not fall under the control of the Government of Iraq," the administration official emphasized.
Michael Pregent, a former high-level intelligence officer who served in Iraq, disclosed evidence that he says proves Iranian militants are directly benefiting from the U.S.'s train and equip programs in Iraq.
"They're using U.S. tanks and any soldier who has driven a tank before knows that you can't just pick one up on the battle field and learn to drive it," Pregent said. "You have to be trained by an American advisor to do it. And they only way you get that training is if you're wearing an Iraqi uniform and these militias brag they can wear any uniform in the Iraq forces and they're doing so."
Rep. Trent Franks (R., Ariz.) called on the Trump administration to view the situation in Iraq as part of its new policy to crackdown on Iranian intransigence in the region.
"I would call upon the president, upon Americans, to take a good look here and see what we’re doing here to in any way strengthen Iran's influence in the Middle East," Franks said.
Sebastian Gorka, a former deputy assistant to President Trump and veteran national security advisor, also urged the U.S. to further embrace Kurdish allies and emphasized the need to fully abandon the landmark nuclear agreement, which he views as only empowering Iran’s influence in the region.
"As far as I am concerned the JCPOA Iran deal should be killed in the interests of U.S. security," Gorka said.