14:42 GMT20 April 2021
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    The Biden administration carried out its first act of military aggression abroad late last month, bombing facilities which it claimed belonged to "Iran-backed" Iraqi Shia militias in Syria. The attacks followed rocket strikes on US forces in Iraq which Washington blamed on these forces. The militias denied any responsibility for the rocket attacks.

    Pentagon spokesman John Kirby’s attempt to walk back the Biden administration’s previous claims that it struck “Iran-backed” militia during the 25 February bombing of Syria has left journalists confused and Twitter outraged.

    In a press conference last week, Kirby claimed that rocket attacks against US forces in Iraq were being carried out by “Shia-backed militia groups,” using the term repeatedly during the briefing before being asked what he meant.

    “When you say Shia-backed militias, do you mean Shia militias or Iran-backed militias?” Kirby was asked. “I mean Shia-backed militias,” he answered.

    “What does that mean?” the journalist prodded. “No no, seriously John?”

    “No seriously. I mean Shia-backed militias,” the Kirby replied. “Like what does that mean, Shia-backed militia? Backed by Shia - -,” the journalist asked. “I’ve answered your question sir,” a visibly agitated Kirby responded.

    Moments later, a second reporter again asked Kirby to clarify, explaining the meaning of the word Shia to the Pentagon spokesman. “Previously US officials would say Iran-backed militias, Shia is a sect, it’s a large group of people. When you say Shia-backed what do you really mean? I was confused,” the journalist said.

    “I’ve been using that phrase pretty much since I’ve been up here and we know that and I’ve said this, that some of the Shia-backed militias have – Shia-based have Iranian backing,” Kirby insisted.

    But a cursory search through the transcripts of Kirby’s three previous press conferences following the 25 Syria bombing shows that the spokesman did not make a single reference to the militias which were attacked as “Shia-backed.” Instead, in his 26 February press conference, Kirby said that US forces had “conducted an air strike against infrastructure utilized by Iranian-backed militant groups in eastern Syria.” He went on to refer to the militias as “Iranian-aligned,” and groups with “ties to Iran” or supported from “out of Iran.”

    Journalists weren’t the only ones to notice the apparent decision by the Pentagon to change its choice of language. Twitter users were similarly confused, with some suggesting that the Biden administration was trying to soften its earlier anti-Iran claims, and others accusing Kirby of ignorance or even discrimination against Shia Muslims.

    “It’s kind of like calling a militia Presbyterian-backed,” one user wrote, adding that “Shia is a religious denomination under Islam. How can a militia be ‘Shia-backed’?” “Just imagine if another nation called US troops ‘Protestant-backed forces’,” another user quipped, calling Kirby’s comments “ridiculous and insulting.”

    “Yeah that doesn’t give me a lot of confidence in this administration’s Middle East policy,” another user chimed in.

    GOP Senator Ted Cruz took an opportunity to take a pot shot at Biden, responding to Kirby’s comments with a popular meme.

    “If every Shia militia is Iran-backed, is every Sunni militia US-backed?” another user joked.

    'Don't Be Fooled by the Terminology'

    Iran condemned the US’s Syria strikes as an “illegal and aggressive attack,” accusing the US of continuing “Israel’s constant aggression” against the war-torn country. Tehran did not bother to comment on the claims that the militia bases hit were “Iran-backed,” but the militias themselves denied any responsibility for the 15 February rocket attack on US forces in Erbil, Iraq which the US used as the formal pretext for the aggression.

    Last week, Iranian-American political observer Dr. Mohammad Marandi told Sputnik that observers “shouldn’t be fooled by the terminology used by Western regime-affiliated media.”

    “When they say ‘Iran-backed militias’, they’re only saying this to hide the fact that they murdered Iraqis. And the fact that these troops belong to the Iraqi armed forces. And that they are part of the Popular Mobilisation Forces,” Marandi explained. “The fact that they were killed inside Syria and nowhere near the American bases in Iraq shows that the intention was to weaken Iraq and to weaken Syria and to strengthen ISIS,* and thus to justify or to cement or to strengthen their occupation of Iraq…This has nothing to do with Iran. They killed Iraqis fighting ISIS.”

    * aka Daesh, a terrorist group outlawed in Russia and many other countries.

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