World / Middle East

Iran sending drones, equipment to Iraq

(Xinhua) Updated: 2014-06-26 11:03

WASHINGTON - Iran is sending drones and military equipment secretly into Iraq to help the Shiite-led government in Baghdad cope with an ongoing offensive by the Sunni militants, The New York Times reported Wednesday.

Tehran has set up a special control center at Al Rashid airfield in Baghdad, Iraq, and is flying its own "small fleet" of Ababil surveillance drones over Iraq, the paper said in a story posted at its website, quoting American officials.

In addition, the Shiite republic has been making two daily flights -- 70 tons per flight -- of military equipment and supplies to Baghdad, deployed an intelligence unit there to intercept communications and about a dozen Quds Force officers to advise Iraqi commanders, the report said.

Also, Iran has massed as many as 10 divisions of military and Quds Force troops on the border, ready to come to Baghdad's aid " if the Iraqi capital is imperiled or Shiite shrines in cities like Samarra are seriously threatened," American officials were quoted as saying.

Tehran on Wednesday denied the presence of any Iranian military officials in Iraq, dismissing such claims as "not true."

"As the Iraqi ambassador to Tehran emphasized, none of Iranian military officials are in Iraq," Iran's Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Marzieh Afkham said.

Washington has stepped up its own surveillance and intelligence gathering over Iraq, and is sending in military advisors in its efforts to try to stabilize the deteriorating situation in Iraq, as fighters from the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, a splinter group of al-Qaida also known as ISIL, are continuing their advances after seizing swathes of five provinces in northern and western Iraq in the past two weeks.

As a parallel tack in defusing the crisis, the United States is pressing for an "inclusive" government in Baghdad and has held off airstrikes on the ISIL militants as requested by Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki.

US and Iranian officials met in Vienna, Austria, last week on the sidelines of negotiations over Iran's nuclear program, but US officials said Washington would not cooperate and coordinate with Tehran militarily.

US Secretary of State John Kerry is on a Middle East and European tour with the Iraqi crisis atop his agenda.

As to airstrikes on militant targets inside Iraq reportedly carried out by Syrian warplanes, State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf told reporters that Washington had no reason to " dispute" the reports but could not confirm them either.

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