Iran has vowed to support the Iraqi government, as Islamist militants move south toward Baghdad, taking cities along the way. The Iranian president has even suggested cooperation with the US if the crisis deepens.
In a live address on state television, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani expressed public support for Baghdad. The comments on Saturday were in response to the threat of civil war in Iraq, where a Sunni Muslim insurgency against the Shiite-led government has spiraled out of control in recent days.
Tehran was "ready to provide assistance within international law," Rouhani said, adding that the Iraqi government had not yet requested Iran's help.
The previous day, US President Barack Obama ruled out the immediate deployment of troops to Iraq. However, he did say that his national security team was preparing "a range of other options that could help support Iraq security forces."
On Saturday, the Iranian president said his government would consider cooperation with Washington if the US were to involve itself in the conflict.
"If we see that the United States takes action against terrorist groups in Iraq, then one can think about it," Rouhani said.
"We have said that all countries must unite in combating terrorism. But right now regarding Iraq, we have no seen the Americans [make] a decision yet," he added.
Iraq braces for more fighting
On Saturday, Iraqi security forces readied themselves for clashes with militants belonging to the organization Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). The al Qaeda splinter group launched an offensive this week, capturing the northern and central cities of Mosul and Tikrit.
According to an army colonel cited by the AFP news agency, the military was preparing a counter-offensive against militants in cities to the north of Baghdad, including Dur and Tikrit.
The violent takeovers this week also prompted a call from the Iranian-born Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani to Iraqis, urging them to defend their country against terrorists. His message was delivered through his representative, Sheik Abdul-Mahdi al-Karbalaie during a sermon in the city of Karbala – located roughly 100 kilometers (60 miles) south of Baghdad – on Friday.
In response to al-Sistani's call, hundreds of young Iraqis were seen lining up at recruitment centers to enlist as volunteers in the country's security forces on Saturday, according to the Associated Press.
kms/slk (AP, AFP, Reuters, dpa)
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