Iranian general in Iraq; militants seize key city

By Hamza Hendawi and Qassim Abdul-Zahra / The Associated Press

Published Jun 17, 2014 at 12:01AM

More U.S. troops to Iraq; special forces considered

WASHINGTON — The U.S. is urgently deploying several hundred armed troops in and around Iraq and considering sending an additional contingent of special forces soldiers as Baghdad struggles to repel a rampant insurgency, even as the White House insists anew that America will not be dragged into another war.

President Barack Obama notified Congress on Monday that up to 275 troops could be sent to Iraq to provide support and security for U.S. personnel and the American Embassy in Baghdad. About 170 of those forces have already arrived and another 100 soldiers will be on standby in a nearby country until they are needed, a U.S. official said.

While Obama has vowed to keep U.S. forces out of combat in Iraq, he said in his notification to Congress that the personnel moving into the region are equipped for direct fighting.

And separately, three U.S. officials said the White House was considering sending a contingent of special forces soldiers to Iraq. Their limited mission — which has not yet been approved — would focus on training and advising beleaguered Iraqi troops, many of whom have fled their posts across the nation’s north and west as the al-Qaida-inspired insurgency has advanced in the worst threat to the country since American troops left in 2011.

— The Associated Press

BAGHDAD — In a sign of Iran’s deepening involvement in the Iraqi crisis, the commander of Tehran’s elite Quds Force is helping Iraq’s military and Shiite militias gear up to fight the Sunni insurgents advancing across the country, officials said Monday.

Washington signaled a new willingness to work with Iran to help the Iraqi government stave off the insurgency after years of trying to limit Tehran’s influence in Baghdad — a dramatic shift that would have been unthinkable a few weeks ago.

The United States is deploying up to 275 military troops to Iraq to protect the U.S. Embassy and other American interests and is considering sending a contingent of special forces soldiers. But the White House insisted anew the U.S. would not be sending combat troops and thrusting America into a new Iraq war.

The insurgents seized the strategic city of Tal Afar near the Syrian border Monday, part of its goal of linking areas under its control on both sides of the Iraq-Syria frontier. West of Baghdad, an army helicopter was shot down during clashes near the city of Fallujah, killing the two-man crew, security officials said.

The Quds Force commander, Iranian Gen. Ghasem Soleimani, has been consulting in Iraq on how to roll back the al-Qaida-breakaway group, known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, according to Iraqi security officials.

Soleimani’s presence in Iraq is likely to fuel longtime Sunni suspicions about the Shiite-led government’s close ties with Tehran.

The security officials said the U.S. government was notified before Soleimani’s visit.

Soleimani has been inspecting Iraqi defenses and reviewing plans with top commanders and Iranian-backed Iraqi Shiite militias, the officials said.