TEHRAN: Iran warned yesterday that “any foreign military intervention in Iraq” would only complicate the crisis, after the United States said it was deploying a warship in the Gulf.
“Iraq has the capacity and necessary preparations for the fight against terrorism and extremism,” foreign ministry spokesman Marzieh Afkham was quoted as saying by the Isna news agency.
“Any action that complicates the situation in Iraq is not in the interests of the country nor of the region,” Afkham said, adding: “The people and government of Iraq will be able to neutralise this conspiracy.”
Iraq is battling an offensive by Sunni militants who advanced to within 80km of Baghdad’s city limits after seizing a swathe of the country’s north.
Responding to the crisis, the Pentagon said on Saturday the United States had ordered an aircraft carrier, the USS George H W Bush, into the Gulf.
Afkham’s comments come a day after President Hassan Rowhani said he believed the Iraqis have the capacity to “repel terrorism” and that Iran had not been asked for help by its neighbour.
But in surprise comments, he added that Iran may consider cooperating with its arch-foe the United States to fight the Sunni extremist militants in Iraq.
“If we see that the United States takes action against terrorist groups in Iraq, then one can think about it,” he said, despite the lack of diplomatic relations between Tehran and Washington for more than three decades.
“We have said that all countries must unite in combating terrorism. But right now regarding Iraq... we have not seen the Americans taking a decision,” Rowhani added. However, National Supreme Security Council chief Ali Shamkhani dismissed any US-Iran cooperation over Iraq. “That is part of a psychological war, and is totally unreal,” Shamkhani said, denouncing “information published in the West’s media”.
“As we have already said, if there is an official Iraqi request we will be ready to study it under the framework of international rules, and this concerns no other country,” added Shamkhani, a Rowhani appointee.
Shamkhani criticised US policy in the region, saying it had “encouraged the creation of terrorist groups such as ISIL”, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.
Quoted by the official Irna news agency, he also denounced the use of “brutal extremists to implement the will of the United States against that of the people in Iraq and Syria”.
The deployment of the US aircraft carrier group was ordered by Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel and comes amid calls for air strikes to blunt the insurgents’ lightning offensive that caught Iraq’s security forces on the hop, with many soldiers throwing away their uniforms and fleeing.
Iraq said yesterday it had “regained the initiative” against militants who seized vast swathes of territory, as former UN mediator Lakhdar Brahimi blamed the crisis on global neglect of Syria’s civil war.
The militants, spearheaded by the powerful Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) jihadist group, have overrun all of one province and chunks of three more since launching their offensive on Monday.
Security forces performed poorly at the outset, with some abandoning vehicles and positions and discarding their uniforms, though they seem to be recovering and have started to regain ground.
Officers said their forces were now starting to repel the militants, and that soldiers had recaptured two towns north of Baghdad.
Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki’s secu rity spokesman, Lieutenant General Qassem Atta, said that Baghdad’s forces have “regained the initiative” and killed 279 “terrorists” in the past 24 hours.
Iraqi officials often announce large militant tolls, with no way of independent verification, and downplay their own casualties. Officials added that security forces and tribal fighters repelled a militant assault in the strategic town of Tal Afar near the Syrian border. It provides a critical corridor for militants to access conflict-hit Syria.
Newspapers in Sunni-dominated Saudi Arabia yesterday blamed Shia Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki for unrest sweeping his country, saying his “sectarian” polices are taking Iraq to a “devastating civil war”.