Iran vows to defend Iraq holy sites
Dubai, June 18, 2014
Iran will not hesitate to defend Shi'ite Muslim holy sites in neighbouring Iraq against "killers and terrorists", Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said on Wednesday, following rapid advances by Sunni militants there over the past week.
Speaking on live television, Rouhani said many people had signed up to go to Iraq to defend the sites and "put the terrorists in their place".
He added that veteran fighters from Iraq's Sunni, Shi'ite and Kurdish communities were also "ready for sacrifice" against these militant forces.
Meanwhile, Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Al-Maliki broadcast a joint appeal for national unity on Tuesday with bitter Sunni critics of his Shi'ite-led government - a move that may help him win US help against rampant Islamists threatening Baghdad.
Just hours after Maliki's Shi'ite allies had angrily vowed to boycott any cooperation with the biggest Sunni party and his government had accused Sunni neighbour Saudi Arabia of backing "genocide", the premier's visibly uncomfortable televised appearance may reflect US impatience with its Baghdad protege.
In a rerun of previous failed efforts at bridging sectarian and ethnic divisions, Shi'ite, Sunni and Kurdish leaders met behind closed doors and then stood frostily before cameras as Maliki's Shi'ite predecessor Ibrahim Al-Jaafari read a statement denouncing "terrorist powers" and supporting Iraqi sovereignty.
US President Barack Obama is considering military options to push back Al Qaeda splinter group the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), which has swept the Sunni north of the country over the past week as the Shi'ite-led army has crumbled.
But in return Washington wants Maliki to do more to address the widespread sense of political exclusion among minority Sunnis which ISIL has exploited to win support among tribal leaders and former followers of ousted dictator Saddam Hussein.
"No terrorist powers represent any sect or religion," Jaafari said in the address, which included a broad promise of "reviewing the previous course" of Iraqi politics. Afterwards, most of the leaders, including Maliki and Usama Al-Nujaifi, the leading Sunni present, walked away from each other in silence.
Earlier, Maliki's government accused Saudi Arabia, the main Sunni power, of backing ISIL - something Riyadh denies. - Reuters