In a surprising development, on Thursday, the State Department said that they are doubting reports of Iranian involvement in the fighting between Iraqi troops and Kurdish forces in Kirkuk.

“I’m not aware of any Iranian involvement in that, per se,” State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert told reporters Thursday.

Iran’s influence over the central government in Baghdad has alarmed U.S. lawmakers and foreign policy leaders amid an outbreak of infighting. Iraqi Kurds tried to capitalize on their prominent role in driving the Islamic State from the country by voting to form an independent state. The Trump administration has tried to remain neutral while endorsing a unified Iraq, but Iranian military leaders reportedly helped Baghdad take control of a critical city in the region.

“Iran is always a huge concern of ours, not just in Iraq but throughout the region,” Nauert said. “When the Iranian regime shows up, bad things tend to happen.”

Nauert’s hesitance to say that the Iranian regime had arrived in the city of Kirkuk was undercut by CIA Director Mike Pompeo’s remarks when asked about the issue. “I’m aware of that,” Pompeo said when asked about it at a summit hosted by the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

In Kirkuk, the PMU (Popular Mobilization Units) or Hashd al-Shaabi spearheaded the entry into Kirkuk, working closely with the Iraqi army’s 9th Armored Division, the Emergency Response Unit (EPU) of the Federal Police, and the U.S.-trained Special Forces.

The Shia militias of the PMU were raised in June 2014, following a fatwa from renowned Iraqi Shia cleric Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani.

Kurdish Forces Pushed Out of Long-held Lands by Iraqi Army, Shia Militias

Read Next: Kurdish Forces Pushed Out of Long-held Lands by Iraqi Army, Shia Militias

The three most important groups are all pro-Iranian and directly connected to the Iranian Revolutionary Guards. These are Ktaeb Hizballah, headed by Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis; Asaib Ahl al-Haq, headed by Qais al-Khazali; and the Badr Organization, commanded by Hadi al-Ameri. All three of these leaders are closely linked to Qods Force Commander General Qassem Suleimani.

Is there any doubt who is pulling the strings on the vast majority of the over 120,000 strong militias under the PMU?

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