raqi men leave the main military recruiting center to join the Iraqi army after volunteering for military service in Baghdad after authorities urged Iraqis to help battle insurgents. AP Photo/Karim Kadim

Iran offers help against militants in Iraq... but only if the US makes the first move

The offer came as Iraqi commanders said the army had recaptured two towns north of Baghdad as they prepared a fightback.

IRAN IS CONSIDERING working with longtime foe the United States if it takes the lead in helping push back Sunni Arab militants in Iraq.

The offer came as Iraqi commanders said the army had recaptured two towns north of Baghdad as they prepared a fightback, bolstered by thousands of Shiite volunteers who have signed up in response to a call to arms by top cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani.

Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki visited the besieged shrine city of Samarra north of the capital Friday to rally troops and pray at the Al-Askari mausoleum, a revered Shiite shrine whose 2006 bombing by Al-Qaeda sparked sectarian conflict that killed tens of thousands.

President Barack Obama said he was “looking at all the options” to halt the offensive that has brought jihadist-led militants within 50 miles (80 kilometres) of Baghdad city limits but ruled out any return of US combat troops.

“We will not be sending US troops back into combat in Iraq, but I have asked my national security team to prepare a range of other options that could help support Iraqi security forces,” he said.

Obama has been under mounting fire from his Republican opponents over the swift collapse of the Iraqi security forces, which Washington spent billions of dollars training and equipping before pulling out its own troops in 2011.

Mideast Iraq Iraqi Army soldiers and volunteers chant slogans against the al-Qaida inspiredc group Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), inside of the main army recruiting center in Baghdad. AP Photo / Karim Kadim AP Photo / Karim Kadim / Karim Kadim

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, who since taking office last August has overseen a rapprochement with a superpower Tehran long derided as the “Great Satan,” said his government was prepared to consider offering help:

If we see that the United States takes action against terrorist groups in Iraq, then one can think about it.

The Iraqi cabinet has granted the Shiite premier “unlimited powers” to reverse the lightning offensive, which has seen the militants sweep down towards Baghdad after overrunning second city Mosul on Tuesday.

Troops and tribal militia found the burned bodies of 12 policemen as they recaptured the town of Ishaqi in Salaheddin province from Sunni Arab insurgents, a police colonel and a doctor said.

It was one of the closest points to the capital that the militants had reached in the offensive that saw them overrun a large chunk of northern and north-central Iraq this week.

- © AFP, 2014

Explainer: What’s happening in Iraq? >

Read: Obama says he will not send troops to Iraq but he’s examining other options >

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