Iraqi PM in Tehran for crisis talks on ISIL
TEHRAN - The Associated Press / Agence France-Presse
Iraqi Prime Minister al-Abadi walks after a meeting with the top Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah al-Sistani, in the Shiite holy city of Najaf, Oct. 20. REUTERS PhotoIran's President Hassan Rouhani says Iran will stand by its neighbor Iraq in its fight against militants of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).
Rouhani told visiting Iraqi Prime Minister Heidar al-Abadi on Oct. 21 that Iran "will remain on the path until the last day," according to a report by the official IRNA news agency.
Rouhani says Iran will continue to provide Baghdad with military advisers and weapons. He also criticized the U.S. for allegedly failing to sufficiently support Iraq
ISIL fighters hold towns just a few kilometers from the Iranian border, and the Islamic republic has been reported by senior Kurdish officials to have deployed troops inside Iraq.
Abadi's visit is all the more important given his surprise elevation to the premiership after the removal in August of Nuri al-Maliki, the Iraqi prime minister whom Iran had resolutely backed since 2006 until this summer's cataclysmic events.
Maliki's armed forces failed in the face of a lightning surge by ISIL fighters into Iraq from Syria, eventually resulting in him stepping down from the top job after Iran publicly endorsed Abadi's candidature as premier.
Iran has supported the Baghdad government throughout the crisis and was the first country to send arms to Kurds fighting ISIL militants in northern Iraq.
Major General Qassem Suleimani, the chief of Iran's elite Quds Force, has been spotted in Iraq, where it is believed he played a key role in coordinating military operations.
As Shiite neighbours, Iran and Iraq have been close since the removal of Sunni dictator Saddam Hussein in the U.S.-led invasion of 2003.
Speaking earlier in the city of Najaf after a rare meeting with the most revered figure among Iraqi Shiites, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, Abadi ruled out any foreign ground intervention to assist government forces in retaking territory lost to jihadists and urged Sunnis to give up such hopes.
"No ground forces from any superpower, international coalition or regional power will fight here," Abadi told reporters, reiterating previous remarks on the issue.
"This is my decision, it is the decision of the Iraqi government."
Some officials and Sunni tribal leaders in areas most affected by the unrest have argued the world should step up its involvement from air strikes to a ground intervention against ISIL.
Iraqi state television said it was the first time in four years that Sistani had met a high-ranking Iraqi government official.
Abadi's talks in Iran on Iraq's war against ISIL come with the situation in the balance. Since June, the militants have seized control of swathes of Iraq and brought it to the brink of collapse.