By Golnaz Esfandiari, RFE/RL
Iranian government officials including President Hassan Rohani have expressed readiness to help the government of their Iraqi ally, Nuri al-Maliki, fight the militants of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) amid Western media reports that the country's powerful Revolutionary Guard has already dispatched forces to Iraq.
File Photo: Iranian Revolutionary Guards
Rohani warned that Tehran is not ready to stand by and tolerate the recent violence in Iraq. He did not elaborate on the time and measures Iran could take to assist Maliki. Iran's police chief, Esmail Ahmadi Moghadam, was quoted as saying that Tehran could intervene to protect Shi'ite shrines and cities.
"The Wall Street Journal" and "The Times" of London reported on June 12 that the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) has deployed units of its elite Quds Force to help Iraqi troops halt the advances of ISIL forces. According to "The Wall Street Journal," "Iranian security sources" have said that two battalions of the Quds Force have come to the aid of Maliki's government. The Quds Force is said to have been active in Iraq for more than a decade.
The reports come after several Iranian websites on June 9 posted a picture of Quds Force commander Qassem Soleimani purportedly holding hands with Iraqi Shi'ite lawmaker Qassem al-Araji. The websites claimed that Araji had posted the picture on his social-networking page with the caption "Haj Qassem is here!"
There was no immediate reaction from Iranian officials to the reports of Iran's intervention in Iraq.
Earlier in the day, deputy IRGC commander Brigadier General Hossein Salami said that Iran was not worried about any threats related to the events in Iraq. "Undoubtedly, the trend of extreme groups' movements in Iraq will be reversed," Salami was quoted as saying by the semi-official ISNA news agency.
He compared the situation in Iraq to that of Syria, where Iranian forces are believed to have helped President Bashar al-Assad remain in power. "Things were reversed in Syria," he said, adding that the same would happen in Iraq.
The IRGC official blamed the United States and other countries for the crisis in Iraq. "Incidents that are taking place in various countries, such as Iraq, are the result of the U.S. and Western governments' military interference," he said.
Other hard-line officials and also some media outlets took a similar approach in their reactions to the crisis in Iraq.
Among them was the supreme leader's representative to the IRGC, who also blamed the United States. "In fact, the colonialist policies of the United States boost the presence of extremist terrorists in Iraq and the recent events in [that country]," Hojatoleslam Ali Saidi was quoted as saying by the hard-line Tasnim news agency.
Saidi also accused Saudi Arabia and Qatar, which, he said, invested a lot into creating chaos in Syria. "Today they feel that all their plots have failed in Syria," he said. "[So] they've opened a new front in Iraq to lift the morale of those to whom they made promises."
The hard-line website Javanonline.ir also pinned the blame on Saudi Arabia. "The intellectual roots of ISIL is from the school of thought of Wahhabism and takfirism [eds. which considers Shi'a and non-practicing Muslim infidels], which receives its unhealthy legitimacy against humanity in various regions (currently in Iraq and Syria) from muftis sitting in Riyadh."
The hard-line Fars news agency, which has been running a live-blog covering Iraq events, posted comments by the commanders of Iran's Basij force, who said the United States was manipulating the "Takfiri terrorists" in Syria and Iraq to tarnish the image of Islam.
Other Iranian news agencies, including Mehr, have also been running live-blogs dedicated to the crisis in Iraq. Most websites have also focused a significant part of their news and analysis to Iraq.
The popular website Fararu.com interviewed the head of Iran's Center for Strategic Studies, Amir Musavi, about the reasons behind ISIL's rapid advances in neighboring Iraq. Musavi, identified as a Middle East expert, said the most important factor was a dispute over power-sharing with the central government and elections, which he said had moved security issues to the margins.
"Another factor that has been effective in the rapid progress of the ISIL in Iraq is the support of Israel and Saudi Arabia, aimed at challenging the security of the Islamic republic," Musavi added.
Khabaronline quoted Iranian lawmaker Nozar Shafiee as saying that the ISIL was not a threat to the Islamic republic. However, he warned that in the long term the ideas of the group could pose a threat to Iran.
On June 12, Iran's Supreme National Security Council held a meeting to discuss the situation in Iraq. Reuters reported on June 13, quoting a senior Iranian official who spoke on condition of anonymity, that Iran's leadership had discussed and was open to the possibility of cooperating with the United States to help Iraq.
Meanwhile, a group of clerics in the holy city of Qom issued a statement expressing concern over the possibility that Shi'ite shrines in Iraq could be destroyed by the ISIL. In a separate statement, another Qom-based cleric, Ayatollah Nuri Hamedani, said that the ISIL's invasion was an attack against Islam, and that it was necessary for Muslims to defend Islam with full force.
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