Washington has sent an aircraft carrier into the Gulf to provide U.S. President Barack Obama with military options if the security situation in Iraq continues to deteriorate.
U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said the aircraft carrier – along with a guided-missile cruiser and a guided-missile destroyer – would be in position on June 15.
Obama has said he would not send U.S. ground troops back into Iraq, but he was looking into other options to help Baghdad against a growing threat of Islamic militants.
However, he said Iraq’s Shi’a-led government must take steps to address sectarian Sunni-Shi’a differences that have fueled unrest in mostly Sunni areas of the country.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry told Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari late on June 14 that U.S. help against a stunning militant advance will only work if Iraqi leaders overcome deep divisions, ratify the results of recent elections, and form a new national unity government.
Sunni-led militants from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) have seized large swaths of territory in northern and western Iraq during the past week – including the cities of Mosul and Tikrit – and have been advancing on Baghdad.
But their advance appeared to be slowing by June 15 after Iraqi security forces, bolstered by Shi’ite and Kurdish militia, took positions in Salahaddin and Diyala provinces north of Baghdad.
Thousands of Shi’a on June 14 answered an urgent call to arms issued a day earlier by Iraq’s top Shi’ite cleric, the Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani.
But correspondents say the deployments have a disturbing sectarian quality and raise concerns that the Iraqi state could be on the verge of disintegrating along sectarian lines.
Iraq’s Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, a Shi’a, visited with military commanders in Samarra to the north of Baghdad on June 14 to discuss why military and police forces had abandoned their positions in Mosul – allowing the ISIL to seize the city, forcing some 500,000 terrified residents to flee.
Maliki said later that the collapse of Iraqi security forces in Mosul was the result of a conspiracy by some Iraqi security officers who had ordered military units to withdraw.
He said those who abandoned their positions would be “brought to justice” and would face “harsh legal measures.”
Meanwhile, Iran says it could be ready to work with the United States against ISIL fighters in Iraq.
U.S. State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf has said that the United States “is not talking to the Iranians about Iraq.”
The Pentagon, meanwhile, has said it could not confirm media reports about the presence of Iranian special forces operating inside Iraq.
Tehran also has denied those reports.
Iranian President Hassan Rohani said on June 14 that if the Iraqi government requests any aid from Tehran, Iran would “of course address it.”
But Rohani said Iran had not received any request from Baghdad for specific aid so far.
The Iranian president also said any help from Tehran would be provided “within the frameworks of international law and the official request” of Iraq and the Shi’a-led government in Baghdad.
With reporting by Reuters, AP, and AFP