When Iraq launched its third attempt to retake Tirkit from Islamic State on Monday, Iran was aiding it with drones, artillery, and rockets, and Revolutionary Guard troops and commanders. Qasem Soleimani, the head of Iran's Quds Force militia, was on the ground near Tikrit, according to Iran's Fars news agency. The U.S. was watching from the sidelines.
"We are fully aware of the operation, but the Iraqis did not request our support for it," Pentagon spokesman Col. Steve Warren told The Wall Street Journal. "Our presence in Iraq is at the request of the Iraqi government." And Iraq didn't request American help, U.S. officials said, because Iran was supporting the 15,000 Iraq army troops, roughly 15,000 Shiite militia volunteers, and up to 2,000 Sunni tribal fighters. Tikrit, the home of Saddam Hussein, is largely Sunni, while Iran and Iraq's government is Shiite.
The U.S. and Iran are both working with Baghdad to defeat ISIS, but they aren't working together. Instead, a U.S. official tells The Journal, the U.S. supports Iraq's military in central Anbar province and the Kurdish regions in the north, while Iran assists mostly in areas to the east of Baghdad, where "geography naturally favors more Iranian influence." The BBC helpfully explains why Iraq's military needs the help, in this 45-second video. —Peter Weber