In a sign of Iran’s deepening involvement in the Iraqi crisis, the commander of Tehran’s elite Quds Force is helping Iraq’s military and Shiite militias gear up to fight the Sunni insurgents advancing across the country, officials said Monday.
© — Photo by The Associated Press
Shiite tribal fighters raise their weapons and chant slogans Monday against the al-Qaida-inspired Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant in Baghdad’s Shula neighbourhood.
Washington signalled a new willingness work with Iran to help the Iraqi government stave off the insurgency after years of trying to limit Tehran’s influence in Baghdad — a dramatic shift that would have been unthinkable a few weeks ago.
The United States is deploying up to 275 troops to Iraq to protect the U.S. embassy and other American interests and is considering sending a contingent of special forces soldiers. But the White House insisted anew the U.S. would not send combat troops and thrust America into a new Iraq war.
The insurgents seized the strategic city of Tal Afar near the Syrian border Monday, part of its goal of linking areas under its control on both sides of the Iraq-Syria frontier. West of Baghdad, an army helicopter was shot down during clashes near the city of Fallujah, killing the two-man crew, security officials said.
The Quds Force commander, Iranian Gen. Ghasem Soleimani, has been consulting in Iraq on how to roll back the al-Qaida-breakaway group, known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, according to Iraqi security officials.
Soleimani’s presence in Iraq is likely to fuel longtime Sunni suspicions about the Shiite-led government’s close ties with Tehran.
The security officials said the U.S. government was notified before Soleimani’s visit.
Soleimani has been inspecting Iraqi defences and reviewing plans with top commanders and Iranian-backed Iraqi Shiite militias, the officials said. He has set up an operations room to co-ordinate the militias and visited areas west of Baghdad where government forces have faced off with Sunni militants for months.