Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF) fighters stand on a hill at the Iraqi-Syrian border near al-Qaim, Iraq. November 25, 2018. REUTERS/Alaa al-Marjani
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From a desert hillside guarded by Iraqi Shiite paramilitaries, commander Qassem Muslih can spot Daesh (ISIS) hideouts across the frontier in Syria.The fighters Muslih commands are part of Al-Hashd al-Shaabi, or Popular Mobilization Forces, a grouping of mostly Shiite militias backed by Iran, which the United States regards as the biggest threat to security in the Middle East.The White House has indicated the U.S. military presence is as much about countering Iran's influence as fighting Daesh.Military commanders in units not allied with Iran say U.S. air power was crucial to the defeat of Daesh in a three-year campaign involving the military, Iraqi Kurdish fighters and the PMF.U.S. forces have kept their bases in place. A fighter at one outpost said a U.S. warplane recently made a low pass over their position.Muslih said there were 20,000 fighters deployed near the border under his command, from Al-Qaim to areas to the southwest near Jordan, and more reinforcements were ready.Washington says it is prepared to counter that with force.
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