Iran sends troops to aid Iraqi government
Revolutionary Guards help Iraq’s army to take back Tikrit from Isis forces
Iranian president Hassan Rouhani said the Islamic Republic “will not tolerate this violence and terrorism . . . we will fight and battle violence and extremism and terrorism in the region and the world”. Photograph: Umit Bektas/Reuters
Iran has reportedly intervened in the Iraq conflict, deploying a branch of the Revolutionary Guards to bolster Iraqi government troops who have been routed by the extremist Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (Isis).
Iran’s Quds Forces helped troops from Nouri al-Maliki’s beleaguered Shia-led Iraqi government to retake 85 per cent of Tikrit, Saddam Hussein’s birthplace, from Isis yesterday, the Wall Street Journal reported.
Iranian president Hassan Rouhani said the Islamic Republic “will not tolerate this violence and terrorism . . . we will fight and battle violence and extremism and terrorism in the region and the world”.
Members of the Revolutionary Guard Corps told the newspaper that two battalions were shifted from Iranian border provinces to protect the Shia holy cities of Najaf and Kerbala, and to tighten security around Baghdad.
Confrontation between Iranian forces and Isis marks a significant escalation of the slow-burning war between Sunni and Shia, with fears it could signify a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran.
Isis seized the northern Iraqi city of Mosul in a lightening offensive this week and was yesterday said to have surrounded Iraq’s largest oil refinery at Baiji. Some reports placed the extremist Sunni group within 90km of Baghdad.
Kurdish Peshmerga separatists, meanwhile, took advantage of the chaos to seize the oil city of Kirkuk.
US president Barack Obama implied the US would consider military strikes to help Iraqi forces. “I don’t rule out anything because we do have a stake in making sure that these jihadists are not getting a permanent foothold in either Iraq or Syria,” he said.
Mr Maliki asked the US to speed up weapons deliveries to his Shia-led government. The US has spent $25 billion (€18.4 billion) to train and arm the one million-strong Iraqi army, which has been plagued by corruption and low morale.
Mr Maliki refused to allow Washington maintain a US military presence in Iraq when it ended its occupation in 2011. Now the US and Iran are supporting the same side in the war in Iraq.
The al-Quds force has been present in Iraq since shortly after the 2003 US invasion. It has given assistance to Islamist groups in the Israeli-occupied territories, to Hizbullah in Lebanon, and has fought on the side of Bashar al-Assad in Syria. If Mr Maliki’s forces continue to flounder, there is speculation that Revolutionary Guards could be transferred from Syria into Iraq.
Isis was originally an offshoot of al-Qaeda, but its leader Abu-Bakr al-Bakri broke with Ayman al-Zawahiri, Osama bin Laden’s successor.