Obama faces deal with Iran as Islamists sweep south
Tehran calls on US to 'join struggle'
President Barack Obama was under growing pressure last night to set aside years of hostility and start co-operating with Iran to counter the jihadist threat engulfing Iraq and its capital, Baghdad.
But speaking in Washington last night, President Obama warned government leaders in Baghdad the US will not take military action unless they move to address deep 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," Mr Obama said from the South Lawn of the White House.
Mr Obama suggested it could take several days before the administration finalises its response to the situation on the ground in Iraq.
"We want to make sure we have gathered all the intelligence that is necessary so that if in fact I do direct and order any actions there that they are targeted, they're precise and they're going to have an effect," he said before leaving for a four-day trip to North Dakota and California.
But ten years after his predecessor, President George W Bush, declared "Mission Accomplished" in Iraq, the Obama administration was openly admitting that it might have to recommit to the use of military force to reunite the country and check the long-term menace of the rise of the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS).
Britain too was offering counter-terrorism expertise that would mean it working alongside not just Iraqi troops but Shia militias and even Iranian special forces.
Iran is already sending units of its Revolutionary Guard to Iraq to help defend Baghdad.
State media quoted President Hassan Rouhani, the Iranian president, as telling the Iraqi prime minister Nouri al-Maliki: "The Islamic Republic of Iran will apply all its efforts on the international and regional levels to confront terrorism."
ISIS forces continued to move towards Baghdad yesterday, in co-operation with other Sunni militias.
A large part has been played by remnants of the Saddam Hussein regime under the authority of Izzat al-Douri, Saddam's deputy who escaped the fall of Baghdad in 2003 and has eluded capture since.
A force said to be a combination of several Sunni elements seized two towns, Saadiyah and Jalawla, in the mixed Sunni-Shia province of Diyala north of Baghdad without opposition and was moving south. It was said to be meeting some resistance as it approached Baghdad from Iraqi security forces. Iraqis in the capital were reportedly flocking to army recruitment centres.
Westerners were leaving, including from the airport compound which lies between the capital and the ISIS forces occupying the towns of Ramadi and Fallujah to the west.
The British Foreign Office said there was no immediate plan for a formal evacuation.
Abu Mohammed al-Adnani, an ISIS spokesman, promised its forces would seize Baghdad, then the holy Shia cities of Karbala and Najaf, before attacking Tehran itself. That statement alone makes an Iranian move to defend Shia shrines inevitable.
Mr Obama is conscious of criticism from the American Right that he is already selling out Israel and long-term national interests by planning a deal with Iran over its nuclear programme.
His policy in the Middle East has been to hope that constructive engagement with Sunni causes, such as the rebellion against President Bashar al-Assad, would help to moderate the jihadist threat posed by al-Qa'ida and its offshoots. But the past five years have seen a resurgence of jihadi activity, leading to ISIS's sway over large parts of Syria and Iraq.
The Iranians have seized the opportunity to assert themselves as defenders of Shia muslims in a sectarian conflict – and are taking delight in demanding their long-time foes in Washington join them.
"We can work with Americans to end the insurgency in the Middle East," a senior Iranian official told Reuters news agency.
"We are very influential in Iraq, Syria and many other countries," he added. (© Daily Telegraph, London)