US Defense Secretary James Mattis shakes hands with officials as he departs Bahrain on Thursday. Photo: Thomas Watkins/AFP
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – US Defense Secretary James Mattis accused Iran of interfering in the Iraqi elections.
"Iran is trying to influence – using money – the Iraqi elections. That money is being used to sway candidates, to sway votes," Mattis told reporters after a trip to Oman, Afghanistan, and Bahrain.
In his meetings with officials, he had heard frequent concerns about Iran, Mattis explained. "One thing that came through loud and clear is the suspicion of Iran and the evidence of Iranian destabilizing efforts," he said.
He said that Iran was “following Russia’s example – mucking around in Iraq’s elections.”
"It was just brought home to me again that they are not changing their behavior, they are continuing to be a destabilizing influence," Mattis added.
He declined to speculate on how successful Iran had been or if Tehran was seeking to undermine Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi.
"Iran should leave the Iraqis to determining their own future," said Mattis.
The administration of US President Donald Trump has repeatedly expressed concern about Iranian influence throughout the Middle East, accusing Tehran of destabilizing the region.
Iran has militarily supported Iraq – backing Shiite militia groups – and is looking to rebuild economic ties, including over oil, as Iraq looks to post-ISIS recovery.
Abadi has previously said that Iran and the United States should not bring their problems into Iraq.
Iraq will hold parliamentary elections on May 12 and provincial elections on December 22.