BAGHDAD: Iraq called yesterday for global support for its fight against jihadists, as Shia neighbour Iran said it was helping Baghdad resist the militants but not with soldiers on the ground.
Iraq is struggling to regain significant parts of the country after a lightning militant offensive led by the Islamic State (IS) jihadist group seized second city Mosul in June and swept through the country’s Sunni heartland, as security forces fled.
The jihadist fighters have been bombarded since August 8 by US air strikes in northern Iraq, allowing Kurdish peshmerga security forces to claw back a limited amount of lost territory, including the Qaraj area, which they retook yesterday.
“We launched an attack this morning on positions of (IS) gunmen” in the Qaraj area southeast of Mosul, forcing the militants out after two hours of fighting, peshmerga Staff Colonel Salim Al Sorchi said.
Iraqi security forces also on Sunday repelled a renewed militant assault on the Baiji oil refinery, the country’s largest, a police officer and witnesses said.
Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari yesterday urged greater support from the international community. Iraq “needs help and support from everybody... all the forces against terrorism,” but not in the form of troops, as “there is no shortage of fighting men,” Zebari said at a joint press conference with his Iranian counterpart Mohammed Javad Zarif in Baghdad.
Zarif, on a two-day visit to Baghdad, for his part said Iran is working with Iraq, and also called for a broad effort against IS. “We are cooperating and working... with the Iraqi government and with the Kurdish government in order to repel this very serious, atrocious group,” Zarif said.
It is “committing acts of horrendous genocide and crimes against humanity” and “needs to be tackled by the international community and by every country in the region”, he said. “But we do not believe that they need the presence of Iranian soldiers in order to do this task,” he said.
There have been reports of Iranian forces fighting in Iraq, and despite Zarif’s denial, there is evidence of military involvement by Tehran, including an Iranian pilot that state media said was killed fighting in Iraq, as well as the presence of several Iranian Su-25 warplanes in the country.
The United States, which has launched more than 90 air strikes against IS jihadists in Iraq in the past two weeks, has said operations against the group in Syria may also be necessary. The jihadists have declared a “caliphate” — a successor state to historic Muslim empires — straddling territory it has seized in Iran and Syria.
Washington has also ramped up its rhetoric following the grisly IS beheading of American journalist James Foley who was abducted in Syria, calling it “a terrorist attack against our country.”
The IS onslaught has exacerbated already high sectarian tensions in Iraq. Prime minister-designate Haidar Al Abadi, a Shia, urged “citizens to close ranks to deny the opportunity to the enemies of Iraq who are trying to provoke strife”.
Iraq was hit by further violence yesterday, with bombings in two areas of Diyala province, northeast of Baghdad, killing 10 people, among them five Kurdish security forces members.