By Parisa Hafezi
ANKARA, June 13 (Reuters) - Shi'te Muslim Iran is so alarmed by Sunni insurgent gains in Iraq that it may be willing to cooperate with Washington in helping Baghdad fight back, a senior Iranian official told Reuters.
The idea is being discussed internally among the Islamic Republic's leadership, the senior Iranian official told Reuters, speaking on condition of anonymity. The official had no word on whether the idea had been raised with any other party.
Officials say Iran will send its neighbor advisers and weaponry, although probably not troops, to help its ally Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki check what Tehran sees as a profound threat to regional stability, officials and analysts say.
Islamist militants have captured swathes of territory including the country's second biggest city Mosul.
Tehran is open to the possibility of working with the United States to support Baghdad, the senior official said.
"We can work with Americans to end the insurgency in the Middle East," the official said, referring to events in Iraq.
"We are very influential in Iraq, Syria and many other countries."
For many years, Iran has been aggrieved by what it sees as U.S. efforts to marginalize it. Tehran wants to be recognized as a significant player in regional security.
Relations between Iran and Washington have improved modestly since the 2013 election of President Hassan Rouhani, who promised "constructive engagement" with the world.
And while Tehran and the United States pursue talks to resolve the Islamic state's decade-old nuclear standoff with the West, they also acknowledge some common threats, including the rise of al Qaeda-style militancy across the Middle East.
On Thursday, President Barack Obama said the United States was not ruling out air strikes to help Baghdad fight the insurgents, in what would be the first U.S. armed intervention in Iraq since the end of the U.S.-led war.
Rouhani on Thursday strongly condemned what he called violent acts by insurgent groups in the Middle East.
"Today, in our region, unfortunately, we are witnessing violence, killing, terror and displacement," Rouhani said.
"Iran will not tolerate the terror and violence ... we will fight against terrorism, factionalism and violence."
Asked on Thursday about Iranian comments, U.S. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said: "Clearly, we've encouraged them in many cases to play a constructive role. But I don't have any other readouts or views from our end to portray here today."
Fearing Iraq's war could spill into Iran, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif has urged the international community to back Maliki's administration "in its fight against terrorism".
Brigadier-General Mohammad Hejazi said Iran was ready to supply Iraq with "military equipment or consultations," the Tasnim news agency reported. "I do not think the deployment of Iranian troops would be necessary," he was quoted as adding.
The senior Iranian official said Iran was extremely worried about the advance of ISIL, also a major force in the war against Iran's close ally Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, carving out a swathe of Syria territory along the Iraqi border.
"The danger of extremist Sunni terrorist in Iraq and the region is increasing ... There have been several high-ranking security meetings since yesterday in Tehran," the official said.
"We are on alert and we also follow the developments in Iraq very closely." (Additional reporting by Michelle Moghtader in Dubai, Writing by Parisa Hafezi, Editing by William Maclean and Janet McBride)
06/14/2014 1:03 PM EDT
NYT: Baghdad Braces For Siege
The New York Times reports that Baghdad residents are preparing for insurgents to descend on the city, though Iraq's military says they're slowed the rebels' advance:
While some Baghdad residents scrambled to leave, hoarded food or rushed to join auxiliary militias to defend the city, the militants of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria and their allies halted their advance within a two-hour drive to the north, and there was no indication that they were seeking to push into Baghdad proper.
06/14/2014 12:38 PM EDT
U.S. Moves Aircraft Carrier
BREAKING: Pentagon orders aircraft carrier USS George HW Bush to Persian Gulf as President Obama weighs possible airstrikes in Iraq— NBC Nightly News (@NBCNightlyNews) June 14, 2014
06/14/2014 11:27 AM EDT
Iraqis Flock To Volunteer Against Insurgents
From the AP:
Hundreds of young Iraqi men gripped by religious and nationalistic fervor streamed into volunteer centers Saturday across Baghdad, answering a call by the country's top Shiite cleric to join the fight against Sunni militants advancing in the north.
Dozens climbed into the back of army trucks, chanting Shiite slogans and hoisting assault rifles, pledging to join the nation's beleaguered security forces to battle the Sunni group known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, which has launched a lightning advance across the country.
Read more here.
06/14/2014 11:14 AM EDT
Iraqi Military Says It Has Slowed Islamist Rebels' Advance
A Sunni Islamist offensive threatening to dismember Iraq seemed to slow on Saturday after days of lightning advances as government forces reported regaining territory in counter-attacks, easing pressure on Baghdad's Shi'ite-led government.
As Iraqi officials spoke of wresting back the initiative against Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant insurgents (ISIL), neighboring Shi'ite Iran held out the prospect of working with its longtime U.S. arch-enemy to help restore security in Iraq.
Read more here.
06/13/2014 3:34 PM EDT
'Early 2006 Again'
Martin Chulov writes from Iraq for the Guardian that this week's fighting has once again exposed the divisions among the country's different groups, as well as the divisive policies of its political leader Nuri al-Maliki.
Iraq has suddenly found itself in early 2006 again, in a week that has seen Sunni insurgents once more face off with Shia militias, a major city looted as an army stands by, and the two shrines whose destruction sparked the sectarian war again endangered. This, though, is a crisis like no other for Iraq, eclipsing even the blood-soaked and hopeless war years that pitched sects against each other and whittled out towns and cities. There is no occupying army to hold the country together this time. After the stunning capitulation at the hands of Sunni insurgents this week, there is barely a military left at all.
Go here to read the full report.
-- Eline Gordts
06/13/2014 3:09 PM EDT
PHOTO: Militants Destroy Iraq-Syria Border
This image posted on a militant news Twitter account on Thursday, June 12, 2014 shows militants from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant removing part of the soil barrier on the Iraq-Syria borders and moving through it. (AP Photo/albaraka_news)
06/13/2014 3:06 PM EDT
ISIS Fighters Accused Of Summary Executions
Human Rights Watch said in a report released on Friday that fighters of ISIS allegedly executed at least 15 civilians in northern Syria.
The executions reportedly took place in the village of al-Taliliya, near Ras al-‘Ayn, on May 29.
“While everyone is focused on ISIS’s advances in Iraq, they’re also committing atrocities in Syria, including gunning down civilians,” said Nadim Houry, deputy Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “ISIS flouts the law, executing civilians at will, while Russia and China paralyze UN Security Council action.”
Read the full announcement here.
-- Eline Gordts
06/13/2014 2:16 PM EDT
Pentagon Can't Confirm Iranian President
The Pentagon said on Friday it cannot confirm reports that members of Iran's Revolutionary Guard are fighting in 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, according to Reuters.
Reports emerged on Thursday that Iranian special forces were helping Baghdad in fighting Islamist insurgents that have captures several cities in Iraq this week.
-- Eline Gordts
06/13/2014 1:21 PM EDT
UN Warns Of War Crimes
The United Nation warned on Friday war crimes may have possible been committed in Iraq.
U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay warned of "murder of all kinds" and other war crimes in the fast-deteriorating Iraqi war zone.
In a first estimate of the number of killed and wounded in the area, her office said the number of killed may run into the hundreds and the number of wounded could approach 1,000.
Pillay also shed some light on the brutalities occurring in Iraq, saying her office had received reports of militants rounding up and killing Iraqi army soldiers and 17 civilians in a single street in Mosul.
Her office said it has also learned of summary executions, rape, extrajudicial and reprisal killings, and about civilians being shelled as fighters from the al-Qaida-inspired Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant overran a succession of major cities earlier in the week.
Deeply disturbing, she said, are reports that the fighters, including prisoners they had released from jails in Mosul and provided with arms, have been actively seeking out and sometimes killing soldiers, police and others. She said victims also included civilians, who the fighters believe are associated with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's government.
Pillay warned those fighting to abide by international law, which requires human treatment of members of armed forces who have laid down their arms. She also stressed that "murder of all kinds, mutilation, cruel treatment and torture constitute war crimes."
"I am extremely concerned about the acute vulnerability of civilians caught in the cross-fire, or targeted in direct attacks by armed groups, or trapped in areas under the control of ISIL and their allies," Pillay said.
"And I am especially concerned about the risk to vulnerable groups, minorities, women and children," she said. "There will be particular scrutiny of the conduct of ISIL, given their well-documented record of committing grave international crimes in Syria."
Read more here.