Last updated: 24 June, 2014

Iraq hasn’t asked Iran for help against militants, says envoy

Iraq has not asked Iran for help against Sunni militants, its ambassador to Tehran said Tuesday as pro-Baghdad government forces held off assaults on a key town and oil refinery.

The remarks by Mohammad Madjid Al-Sheikh came after Iranian leaders repeatedly said they were ready to assist Baghdad against the insurgency that has taken control of a swathe of Iraqi territory.

“Iran has played an important role in supporting Iraq politically,” Al-Sheikh said at a news conference in Tehran.

However, “we have not asked any country to come and defend Iraq and the Iraqi people,” he said in Arabic.

Iran, the predominant Shiite power in the Middle East, has said it will support ally Iraq and its holy Shiite sites against the Sunni militants led by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).

But Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani and Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif have stopped short of saying what form such assistance might take.

They have also insisted Iraq’s army is capable of winning on its own.

On Tuesday, the second day of his unannounced trip to Iraq, US Secretary of State John Kerry pledged “intense” American support to repel the insurgent advance and pushed for Iraqi unity.

And in Tehran, Al-Sheikh said Baghdad had “a strategic agreement with the Americans which depends on an Iraqi request” for military assistance.

Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said at the weekend he was against any foreign intervention in Iraq, accusing the United States of seeking to “take advantage of fanatics with no will of their own,” in reference to ISIL.

Al-Sheikh also rejected reports that the commander of Iran’s shadowy Quds Force, Qasem Suleimani, was in Iraq assisting the army.

Such information had been generated by “terrorist media who seek to sow discord between Iraq and other countries, like Iran,” he said without elaborating.