WASHINGTON — As the United States and a handful of allies begin flowing thousands of troops into Iraq to train and equip Iraqi and Kurdish army brigades, Baghdad and Tehran have signed an agreement to continue Iranian training of Iraqi units, according to a report from the Iranian Fars news agency.
In a Tuesday meeting in Tehran between Iraqi Defense Minister Khalid al-Obeidi and Iranian Defense Minister Brig. Gen. Hossein Dehqan, the two countries promised to increase security ties to fight against the threat of the radical Sunni Islamic State group.
Obeidi, a Sunni from the northern city of Mosul, which is under Islamic State control, said during a press conference that "we do not see any other option than cooperation and being on the same side [with Iran] to uproot the terrorists," according to a translation provided by Fars.
"We assume Iran's increased support for the Iraqi armed forces as a strategic necessity," he said.
The United States has about 1,500 troops on the ground in Baghdad and Erbil, with 350 at al-Asad air base in the contested Anbar province to prepare for a larger US training footprint there in the coming months.
About 1,300 more troops will be on their way in January, including 1,000 soldiers from the 82nd Airborne Division's 3rd Brigade Combat Team.
But as US involvement deepens, so does that of Iranian forces who have allied themselves with their fellow Shiite in Baghdad's Shiite-dominated central government.
In December, Iranian fighter planes bombed several Islamic State positions in Diyala province in eastern Iraq, leading US and Iranian officials to quickly deny that there has been any coordination between the two countries regarding military actions inside Iraq.
During his visit to Tehran, Obeidi said Baghdad is seeking "Iran's assistance, support and partnership" militarily, and to help stamp out corruption in the Shiite-dominated government. He also said that by his trip, "we underscore the Iraqi government, nation and armed forces' determination to expand relations with Iran and we believe that developing ties between Iraq and Iran will benefit both nations."
To underscore the Iranian role in Iraq, on Monday a highly publicized funeral was held in Tehran for a top Iranian Revolutionary Guard commander who was killed in Samarra, a town north of Baghdad and home to a major Shiite shrine.
Brig. Gen. Hamid Taqavi was "martyred while performing his advisory mission" in Samarra, state TV said. He is the highest-ranking Iranian officer known to have been killed abroad since the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s, in which he fought.
Also on Tuesday, a high-ranking official in the Iranian-backed Badr Brigades, Karim Nouri, said his fighters had pushed Islamic State militants out of the area south of Tikrit.
He told Iraqi News that "security forces backed by the people managed at dawn today to liberate Dhuluiya district" and "dozens of ISIS elements were killed or wounded or arrested while others escaped."