Top officials of NATO and Britain said Thursday they have no plans to get involved militarily in Iraq, after Sunni Muslim militants overran much of the north and were pressing toward Baghdad. Top European diplomats were consulting with each other and U.S. counterparts over the deteriorating security situation in Iraq. Britain and France said it was up to Iraqi authorities to deal with terrorism and worsening security. NATO’s top official said the alliance had no request or mandate to act in Iraq. “I don’t see a role for NATO in Iraq,” NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said during a visit to Madrid. Foreign Secretary William Hague of Britain too ruled out any British military role. “We’re looking at that now,” Hague told the BBC. “But we will not be getting involved militarily.”
Expressing alarm over the conflict in Iraq, Russia said it had long predicted that U.S. and British “adventurism” there would end badly. “We warned long ago that the adventurism the Americans and the British started there would not end well,” said Sergei Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, according to the Interfax news agency. The Russian foreign minister accused the United States of withdrawing its forces prematurely for domestic political reasons, without finishing the task of preparing the Iraqi military to protect the whole country.
In years past, Iranian officials would smirk when recalling how the United States had done the dirty work for them by removing Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, a Sunni who led an eight-year war against Shiite Iran. To top it off, the U.S. military actively helped an Iran-friendly government of Shiites to consolidate power and then voluntarily pulled out. With precious little investment, Iran had gained a critical ally.
But now, with Sunni extremists heading for Baghdad, the situation is decidedly darker. Not only do the fighters pose a direct threat to the pro-Iranian government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, but they have promised to massacre Shiites and destroy their shrines in Najaf and Karbala. The group has threatened to take the fight to the Shiite holy cities Najaf and Karbala, the burial sites of the founder of the Shiite faith, Imam Ali, and its greatest general, Imam Hossein.
In the worst case, if Al-Maliki were driven from power, the shrines were threatened and radical Sunni insurgents were killing Shiite civilians, Iran would more than likely be compelled to intervene, experts said. But exactly how Iran would do so is unclear. Iran will more than likely busy itself with organizing Iraq’s security forces and Shiite militias, analysts said, much as it has done in Syria. Its natural reaction will be to avoid any overt involvement, politicians and analysts point out, preferring to act through intermediaries, such as military advisers. Any form of direct involvement would come at a high price. Security has been beefed up at the frontiers.