Iran is ready to assist the Iraqi government in its battle against extremist Sunni Islamists, President Hassan Rouhani says.
Rouhani suggested in a press conference that the Sunni militants who have seized cities in northern Iraq this week are linked to Iraqi politicians who lost in parliamentary elections held in April.
The insurgents – from the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) – have seized the cities of Mosul and Tikrit and are moving closer to Baghdad.
They regard Iraq’s Shia majority as “infidels”.
“We will study if there is a demand for help from Iraq. Until today, no specific request for help has been demanded. But we are ready to help within international law,” he said. “Entry of our forces (into Iraq) to carry out operations has not been raised so far. It’s unlikely that such conditions will emerge.”
Iran has built close political and economic ties with Iraq since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion toppled Saddam Hussein’s Sunni-led government, and many influential Iraqi Shiites, including Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, have spent time in the Islamic Republic.
The UK will provide an initial £3m in emergency aid to help civilians fleeing the Islamist insurgency in Iraq, the government has said.
International Development Secretary Justine Greening said the package included clean water, medicine and protection for vulnerable women.
Hundreds of thousands of people have fled their homes after insurgents seized the cities of Mosul and Tikrit.
Ms Greening said Iraq faced “serious humanitarian need”.
Iran this week halted flights to Baghdad because of security concerns and said it was intensifying security on its borders.
After seizing Iraq’s second city Mosul and Hussein’s hometown of Tikrit earlier this week, the jihadist Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant vowed to take the battle all the way to Baghdad and the Shiite heartland of southern Iraq, home to the faith’s most revered shrines.
Rouhani suggested the Islamic state could not have made such swift gains on its own, saying “other issues and coordination were involved.”
Figures from Hussein’s deposed government as well as other Sunni militants are believed to have allied with the Islamic state in its campaign against the Shiite-led government in Baghdad.
“Those defeated (in elections) have resorted to bullets. This is a grave blunder,” Rouhani said.