What Happens If US Troops Run Into the Iranian Military in Iraq?

Anyway, the defense official said, the idea that U.S. soldier would necessarily interact with the Iranians was based on an “oversimplification” of the situation that ignored “a long history of much more extensive on the ground involvement and partnered operations [by the U.S.] in advising and assisting Iraqi security forces” with Iranian forces around.

“They were there in the years that we were there,” the official said, referring to the years after the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, “and we managed to conduct our mission without getting into the situation that you’re addressing in your inquiry.”

The official said that historically, Iran has been involved with Iraqi militias, rather than its proper military, lessening the likelihood of U.S.-Iranian overlap.

However, the official acknowledged that the mission this time -- with the U.S. and Iran both supporting the Iraqi government against an organized enemy, Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), potentially in a defense of the same cities, namely Baghdad –- is different.

Another former U.S. soldier with recent experience in Baghdad was skeptical of the Defense Department’s position.

"I’m sure they [the U.S. and Iran] will have to cooperate on some level, even if it’s just them leaving us alone in a mutual understanding," the ex-soldier told ABC News.

Beyond either avoiding each other altogether or some potential cooperation, there is another chilling possibility, however slight, that the armed men from the U.S. and Iran could get into a violent confrontation of their own.

In that case, the U.S. defense official said, “I will just say, our forces have the inherent right to self-defense.”

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