ERBIL – The US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis last Friday denied media reports that a land bridge exists between Iran and Syria through Iraq after Iranian-backed forces defeated ISIS in areas bordering Syria.
“I don't think there's a land bridge right now. There's still enough rough terrain, rough enemy units that haven't been cleaned up, and all the usual cleanup going on,” he said about remaining ISIS fighters in the Syrian-Iraqi border area. “I don't think there's a land bridge right now,” he added.
Moreover, the US Defense Secretary did not want to comment if the US taking measures to push back Iranian influence in the region.
“I don't talk about possible future operations,” he said.
“I think Secretary Mattis is technically correct that this border junction between Syria and Iraq – the “land bridge” that would link Iran to the Golan and Lebanon – has yet to be really pacified,” Sam Heller, a Beirut-based freelance writer, analyst and fellow at The Century Foundation told The Region.
“But the Syrian regime and its allies have by now staked their claim to this cross-border artery, and I don’t see anyone else ready to challenge them for it. And I think it’s a matter of time before they manage to mop up some of these ISIS elements and make this route safe (or safe enough) to transit,” he added.
Nicholas A. Heras, a Fellow at the Center for a New American Security (CNAS), agreed.
“Secretary Mattis is reacting to the notion that Iran has a stable and secure land route to truck heavy weapons to the frontlines against Israel. And the fact of the matter is that the Iranians have not done that,” he told The Region.
“Particularly in Syria, ISIS maintains an attack zone in central and eastern Syria that remains a threat to any so-called land bridge. And there remains constant US and partner surveillance of central and eastern Syria, as well as US observation of IRGC backed militias that would secure the route in Iraq,” he added.
“Any such land bridge is resting on a shaky foundation, and it continues to be easier for Iran to simply fly weapons and fighters into Damascus than to truck them over a long road through Iraq and Syria,” he concluded.
Abu Mahdi al Muhandis, the deputy commander of the Iran-backed Iraqi Popular Mobilization Forces (PMU) told foreign reporters and analyst in Baghdad in late October last year that all the support to Syria was going through Iraqi air space.
“The Iraqi government did not succumb to US pressure from air planes passing through Iraq,” he said. “It was easily transferred from Baghdad and Iraqis supported Syria in various ways,” he said. “We are now on the Iraq-Syrian border in the north and south,” he concluded.