Kurdistan Region Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani (L) with Ali Shamkhani, head of Iran's National Security Council. Photo: FARS
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – Kurdistan Region Premier Nechirvan Barzani is in Tehran to discuss events in Iraq, where the jihadi Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has seized large Sunni territories and is marching toward Baghdad to topple the Shiite-led government.
Iran’s Mehr news agency reported that the Kurdish leader will discuss the ISIS “terrorist group” with Iranian officials. It noted he would also meet with Iranian defense authorities, including top military chief Ali Shamkhani, who heads the Supreme National Security Council.
Barzani’s unannounced visit takes place as the Iranian government considers supporting Baghdad against Islamic extremists who have taken the second-largest city of Mosul and remain only about 100 kilometers north of Baghdad.
Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani has denied reports that some of Tehran’s elite Quds forces are in Iraq to help bolster Iraqi Prime Miniser Nouri al- Maliki, a fellow Shiite. But he said, "If the Iraqi government wants us to help, we will consider it."
Meanwhile, the Kurdistan Region’s Peshmerga military is seen as the only force inside Iraq capable of stopping the rebels, who say their aim in Baghdad is to topple the pro-Iranian Maliki.
Reports say that even the United States, which backs Maliki but has no relations with arch-enemy Iran, wants to meet with Tehran officials to discuss – and possibly coordinate – efforts to thwart the militant march.
The Iraqi army has all but collapsed since abandoning posts and fleeing when the extremists marched on Mosul last week.
Iran holds immense sway among all groups in Iraq, where it is generally believed able to impose its will.
Iraq’s pro-Iranian Shiite authorities have issued a religious call for all Shiites to take up arms against the Sunni extremists.
But the Kurds have said that the only way out of the current crisis is for all of Iraq’s major components – Shiite Arabs, Sunnis and Kurds – to form a council, and continue their political process through parliament.