The Iraqi government is increasingly calling for help from the international community in the face of an all-out assault from Al Qaeda splinter group Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). As the United States studies various response options, Secretary of State John Kerry says cooperation with Iran to stop ISIS is an option.
In an interview with Yahoo! News, Kerry said that the United States is “open to discussions” with Iran, adding that the option of working with Iran is possible because U.S. officials are not ready to “rule out anything that would be constructive.” “We’re open to discussions if there is something constructive that can be contributed by Iran, if Iran is prepared to do something that is going to respect the integrity and sovereignty of Iraq and ability of the government to reform,” Kerry told the news agency.
Kerry’s openness to working with Iran echoes sentiments that have been reported anonymously within the U.S. government previously. On Sunday, Reuters reported that an anonymous source had confirmed that the Obama administration was open to discussing a cooperative effort with Iran to fight ISIS. The official noted that one potential avenue for such discussion is through nuclear energy talks set with Iran in Vienna, Austria this week. The White House has confirmed the presence of Deputy Secretary of State Bill Burns at this meeting but has not remarked on the potential of discussing Iraq.
Iran has already begun to establish a military presence in Iraq to help fight off ISIS rebels. On Saturday, The Guardian reported that Iran had begun to send 2,000 “advance troops” into Iraq to establish a presence there. The paper reported that “1,500 basiji forces had crossed the border into the town of Khanaqin, in Diyala province in central Iraq on Friday, while another 500 had entered the Badra Jassan area in Wasat province overnight.”
The initiative has also involved public statements from Iran urging the cooperation of the United States. President Hassan Rouhani noted that he was open to collaboration with Washington “if we see America starts confronting the terrorist groups in Iraq or elsewhere.”
The United States has already begun to act to protect its citizens there, who are particularly vulnerable at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, which ISIS jihadists are attempting to reach. The Embassy has been partially evacuated, with the Defense Department sending “about 50 Marines,” according to The Washington Post, to Baghdad to provide added security. By Monday, the number of Marines had increased to 150, reports indicated, and a movement encouraging Americans to leave the country or relocate has begun. Unconfirmed reports that the Baghdad airport was under fire on Sunday have led many to believe an evacuation process would be significantly more difficult than it may have been days before, leaving open the potential need for helicopters to transport American personnel out of the area.
On Monday, the Associated Press reported that ISIS had captured the northern town of Tal Afar, 260 miles northwest of Baghdad. The jihadists have declared their intentions to enter Baghdad and overthrow the government, an increasingly likely scenario as they continue to capture territory from the Iraqi military.