Iran sends two battalions to aid Maliki government against Sunni jihadistsAs I wrote here today: “Iraq’s Shi’ite Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki, has vowed to retake the city, blaming its fall on a ‘conspiracy’ and adding: ‘Today, the important thing is that we are working to solve the situation. We are making preparations and we are regrouping the armed forces that are in charge of clearing Ninevah from those terrorists.’ Maliki may indeed be able to clear the region of the Sunni jihadists, for behind him stands the power of the Islamic Republic of Iran, which also backs the Alawite Bashar Assad’s regime in Syria. But it is unlikely that they will be able to achieve total victory, for Sunni jihadists from all over the world have flocked to Syria in order to fight against Assad, and Maliki has accused Saudi Arabia and Qatar of supporting the Sunni jihadists in Iraq.”
And now we have this: “An ISIS spokesman, Abu Mohamad al-Adnani, urged the group’s Sunni fighters to march toward the ‘filth-ridden’ Karbala and ‘the city of polytheism’ Najaf, where they would ‘settle their differences’ with Mr. Maliki. That coarsely worded threat further vindicates Iran’s view that the fight unfolding in Iraq is an existential sectarian battle between the two rival sects of Islam-Sunni and Shiite—and by default a proxy battle between their patrons Saudi Arabia and Iran.”
“Iran Deploys Forces to Fight al Qaeda-Inspired Militants in Iraq,” by Farnaz Fassihi, Wall Street Journal, June 12, 2014:
BEIRUT, Lebanon—Iran deployed Revolutionary Guard forces to fight in Iraq, helping government troops there wrest back control of most of the city of Tikrit from militants, Iranian security sources said.
Two battalions of the Quds Forces, the overseas branch of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps that has long operated in Iraq, came to the aid of the besieged, Shiite-dominated government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, they said.
Combined Iraqi-Iranian forces retook control of 85% of Tikrit, the birthplace of former dictator Saddam Hussein, according to Iraqi and Iranian security sources.
They were helping guard the capital Baghdad and the two Shiite holy cities of Najaf and Karbala, which have been threatened by the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham, an al Qaeda offshoot. The Sunni militant group’s lightning offensive has thrown Iraq into its worse turmoil since the sectarian fighting that followed the 2003 U.S.-led invasion.
Shiite Iran has also positioned troops along its border with Iraq and promised to bomb rebel forces if they come within 100 kilometers, or 62 miles, of Iran’s border, according to an Iranian army general.
In addition, Iran was considering the transfer to Iraq of Iranian troops fighting for the regime in Syria if the initial deployments fail to turn the tide of battle in favor of Mr. Maliki’s government.
The Iraqi government has signaled to the U.S. it would allow airstrikes against insurgents and asked Washington to speed the delivery of promised weapons.
That raises the prospect of both the U.S. and Iran lending support to Mr. Maliki against ISIS insurgents, who are seeking to create a caliphate encompassing Iraqi and Syrian territory.
Gen. Qasem Sulaimani, the commander of the Quds Forces and one of the region’s most powerful military figures, traveled to Baghdad this week to help manage the swelling crisis, said a member of the Revolutionary Guards, or IRGC.
Qassimm al-Araji, an Iraqi Shiite lawmaker who heads the Badr Brigade bloc in parliament, posted a picture with Mr. Sulaimani holding hands in a room in Baghdad on his social-networking site with the caption, “Haj Qasem is here,” Iranian news sites affiliated with the IRGC reported on Wednesday. “Haj Qasem” is Mr. Sulaimani’s nom de guerre.
At stake for Iran in the current tumult in Iraq isn’t only the survival of an Shiite political ally in Baghdad, but the safety of Karbala and Najaf, which along with Mecca and Medina are considered sacred to Shiites world-wide.
An ISIS spokesman, Abu Mohamad al-Adnani, urged the group’s Sunni fighters to march toward the “filth-ridden” Karbala and “the city of polytheism” Najaf, where they would “settle their differences” with Mr. Maliki.
That coarsely worded threat further vindicates Iran’s view that the fight unfolding in Iraq is an existential sectarian battle between the two rival sects of Islam-Sunni and Shiite—and by default a proxy battle between their patrons Saudi Arabia and Iran.
“Until now we haven’t received any requests for help from Iraq. Iraq’s army is certainly capable in handling this,” Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Marzieh Afgham said Wednesday.
Despite those assuring comments, measures by the Iranian government in the past day indicated that an air of crisis had enveloped Tehran. Iran’s army and border guards have been placed under full alert along the country’s long border with Iraq, Iranian media reported.
Iran’s President Hasan Rouhani cut short a religious celebration on Thursday and said he had to attend an emergency meeting of the country’s National Security Council about events in Iraq.
“We, as the Islamic Republic of Iran, will not tolerate this violence and terrorism….We will fight and battle violence and extremism and terrorism in the region and the world,” he said in a speech.
Iran’s chief of police, Esmail Ahmadi-Moghaddam, said the National Security Council would consider intervening in Iraq to “protect Shiite shrines and cities.”…