UK & World News

  • 14 June 2014, 19:47

Iraq: Iran Offers To Work With Arch Foe US

Iran's president has said he would consider working with the US to combat Islamist militants in Iraq, as he offered to help fight the insurgents.

President Hassan Rouhani suggested he would be willing to co-operate with Iran's traditional enemy to keep the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) from taking control of its Middle East neighbour.

In a televised address on Saturday morning Mr Rouhani said Iran would be willing to go to Iraq's assistance and added: "We all should practically and verbally confront terrorist groups."

Asked if Tehran would work with the Americans, he said: "We can think about it if we see America start confronting the terrorist groups in Iraq or elsewhere."

The news came as US Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel ordered the aircraft carrier USS HW George Bush to the Persian Gulf to give the US added flexibility if military action is required.

President Barack Obama has ruled out putting American troops on the ground in Iraq, but says the White House is considering all other options for support.

He said he would make a decision on the options "in the days ahead" amid reports the Pentagon is drafting plans for possible air strikes against the Islamist rebels.

"The United States will do our part, but ultimately it's up to the Iraqis as a sovereign nation to solve their problems," Mr Obama said. "We can't do it for them."

Iran has already sent a Major General from the Revolutionary Guard to Baghdad to meet leaders of the city.

Iran is predominately Shia and does not want to see a Sunni caliphate established on its borders by ISIS fighters, who are now thought to be fewer than 50 miles (80km) from Iraq's capital.

Foreign Secretary William Hague has ruled out sending UK troops, but said Britain may offer other support, such as counter-terrorism expertise, which could see the involvement of the SAS, as it did in Libya.

"Work is under way on that now and we will continue to liaise closely with our United States allies in particular on that," he said.

Britain is to provide £3m in emergency aid to help refugees fleeing the violence.

It comes as the governor of Mosul told Sky News he would welcome US support in ousting Islamist militants from Iraq, but does not want troops on the ground.

Speaking from Irbil in the Kurdish north after fleeing Mosul when it was taken by ISIS, Atheel al Nujaifi said the insurgents' attack on several Iraqi cities came as a complete surprise to Iraqi authorities.

Mr Nujaifi said: "We need to have weapons. We need to have political support.

"(But) we don't like the American army to come into Iraq and to occupy Iraq another time and turn back to the same problem that happened before."

The UN has said the 7,000-strong ISIS force has carried out summary executions and rapes in its bloody takeover of large swathes of the country. Around 90,000 Iraqi soldiers are said to have deserted their posts.

By Saturday morning the Iraqi army had staged a fightback, retaking the towns of Ishaqi, al-Mutasim and Duluiyah, in Salah ad Din province. They have also retaken much of Tikrit, Saddam Hussein's home town.

Hundreds of young Iraqis attended volunteer centres across Baghdad to sign up to fight the militants after the country's most senior cleric urged people to take up arms on Friday.

Sheikh Abdulmehdi al Karbalai, a representative for Grand Ayatollah Ali al Sistani, said: "People who are capable of carrying arms and fighting the terrorists in defence of their country ... should volunteer to join the security forces to achieve this sacred goal."

:: Watch a special report on the conflict in Iraq on our catch up service. Sky's Foreign Affairs Correspondent Lisa Holland asks whether the current crisis means the end of Iraq. It's free for TV customers with Sky HD+ boxes connected to broadband.

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