World Bulletin / News Desk
US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis lambasted Iran on Thursday for "mucking around" in Iraq's upcoming elections in a bid to sway votes towards pro-Tehran candidates.
"One thing that came through loud and clear is the suspicion of Iran and the evidence of Iranian destabilizing efforts," said Mattis, a longtime Iran hawk.
"I heard it when I was up in Afghanistan. You know what's going on in terms of Iran's support to Assad. Now Iran is following Russia's example (and) mucking around in Iraq's elections," Mattis said, referring to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
"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.
The Pentagon chief said he would not speculate as to whether Iran's efforts were having any impact on the Iraqi electorate ahead of the May parliamentary and provincial assembly elections.
"Iran is trying to influence using money the Iraqi elections. That money is being used to sway candidates, to sway votes," he said.
"Iran should leave the Iraqis to determining their own future," said Mattis.
Despite increased rhetoric from Washington about Iran's activities in the region and US President Donald Trump's continual railing against the Iran nuclear deal, Mattis noted that Iranian naval vessels in the Gulf have become less provocative toward US ships.
He said ships from both the regular Iranian navy and the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps have curtailed the sorts of incidents that had become almost routine over the past few years, and are now staying away from American vessels.
"In the Gulf itself, they are not coming in as close to our ships, the provocative actions in the Gulf seem to have relented somewhat," Mattis said.
"They are not doing as many bellicose confrontations and that sort of thing."
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