As al-Qaeda-inspired Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) militants and local armed men – backed by Sunni tribal leaders – advance towards the Iraqi capital of Baghdad, neighboring Iran has sent troops to fight alongside government forces, CNNreported on Friday.
Iran has sent about 500 of its elite Revolutionary Guard soldiers to fight alongside Iraqi government security forces in the eastern Diyala province, a senior security official in Baghdad told the channel.
However, the Pentagon said on Friday it could not confirm media reports about the presence of Iranian special forces operating inside Iraq.
“I’ve seen the press reporting on that … but I have nothing to confirm that there are Iranian special forces inside Iraq,” spokesman Rear Admiral John Kirby said.
Days after ISIS militants captured Iraq’s second largest city of Mosul, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s government has been on high alert as it faces the most serious threat to its rule in recent years.
The Iraqi government has been bolstering Baghdad’s defenses as militants from the al-Qaeda inspired Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and local armed groups vowed to advance to the capital after days of successive gains.
Interior Ministry Spokesman Brigadier General Saad Maan told AFP: “We put in place a new plan to protect Baghdad.”
“The plan consists of intensifying the deployment of forces, and increasing intelligence efforts and the use of technology such as (observation) balloons and cameras and other equipment,” Maan said.
He said coordination between security forces had also been increased.
U.S. President Barack Obama said Friday he is weighing a range of options for countering the violent Islamic insurgency in Iraq, but he warned government leaders in Baghdad the U.S. will not take military action unless they move to address deep-seeded political troubles.
“We’re not going to allow ourselves to be dragged back into a situation in which, while we’re there we’re keeping a lid on things, and after enormous sacrifices by us, after we’re not there, people start acting in ways that are not conducive to the long-term stability and prosperity of the country,” Obama said from the South Lawn of the White House, according to the Associated Press.
The president did not specify what options he was considering, but he ruled out sending American troops back into combat in Iraq. The last U.S. troops withdrew in 2011 after more than eight years of war.
Meanwhile, China – the top foreign player in Iraq’s oilfields – said that it was watching security developments in Iraq and offered the Baghdad government whatever help it can give.