Iran could contemplate cooperating with its old adversary the United States on restoring security to Iraq if it saw Washington confronting “terrorist groups in Iraq and elsewhere”, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said on Saturday.
Rouhani, a pragmatist who has presided over a thaw in Iran’s relations with the West, also said Tehran was unlikely to send forces to Iraq but stood ready to provide help within the framework of international law. Baghdad has not requested such assistance, he added.
Shia Muslim Iran has been alarmed by the seizure this week of several major northern Iraqi towns by Sunni Islamist insurgent forces and their sweep southward to within an hour’s drive of Baghdad, and not far from the Iranian border.
“We all should practically and verbally confront terrorist groups,” Rouhani told a news conference broadcast live on state television.
The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) juggernaut seemed to slow on Saturday after days of lightning advances as government forces regained some territory in counter-attacks. The army clawed back some towns and territory around Samarra Saturday with the help of Shia militia. Troops backed by the militia helped retake the town of Muqdadiya northeast of Baghdad, and ISIL was dislodged from Dhuluiya after three hours of fighting with tribesmen, local police and residents, a tribal leader said.
Asked if Tehran would work with Washington in tackling the advances by Sunni insurgents in Iraq, Rouhani replied: “We can think about it if we see America starts confronting the terrorist groups in Iraq or elsewhere.”
A senior Iranian official told Reuters earlier this week that Tehran, which has strong leverage in Shia-majority Iraq, may be ready to cooperate with Washington in helping Baghdad fight back against the jihadist ISIL rebels.
The official said the idea of cooperating with the Americans was being discussed within the Tehran leadership. For now, according to Iranian media, Iran will send advisers and weaponry, although probably not troops.
This is the beginning of the end for them, Iraq PM assures military
Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki told army officers in the city of Samarra that volunteers were arriving to help defeat Islamist militants who have swept through Sunni Muslim territory towards Baghdad.
“Samarra will not be the last line of defence, but a gathering point and launchpad,” Maliki said, addressing miliary officers in the city around 100 kilometres north of the capital.
“Within the coming hours, all the volunteers will arrive to support the security forces in their war against the gangs of ISIL. This is the beginning of the end of them,” Malik said in comments broadcast on Iraqi television on Saturday after he travelled to Samarra on Friday.
Maliki said the cabinet had granted him unlimited powers to confront the fighters from the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).
During his trip to Samarra Maliki visited a revered Shi’ite shrine that was bombed by Sunni militants in 2006, an attack which touched off sectarian bloodletting that killed tens of thousands of people.
Extensive clips of Maliki’s visit to Samarra also were broadcast. The footage seemed clearly aimed at rehabilitating his reputation in the eyes of Shiites, with a dour-faced Maliki seen praying at the Shiite shrine — an apparent reminder of his commitment to his faith and the protection of its followers. He also declared that Samarra would be the assembly point for the march farther north to drive out the militants, another decision with a religious slant to win over Shiites.