"Iraq's most senior Shia cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, has issued a call to arms to fellow Shias."
Tehran, June 14 - Iranian President Hassan Rouhani Saturday expressed his country's readiness to assist the Iraqi government in its battle against extremist Sunni insurgents. But he denied that Iran had sent troops to Iraq to help bolster the Iraqi government forces' defences, BBC reported.
The insurgents -- from the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) -- have seized the cities of Mosul and Tikrit and are moving closer to Baghdad. They regard Iraq's Shia majority as infidels.
If the Iraqi government asks us for help, we may provide any assistance the Iraqi nation would like us to provide in the fight against terrorism, said President Rouhani during a news conference held to mark the first anniversary of his victory in Iran's presidential election.
However, the engagement of Iranian forces has not been discussed. Providing help and being engaged in operations are different.
Replying to a question, he said that so far the Iraqi government had not requested help from Iran.
President Rouhani did not completely rule out co-operating with Iran's traditional foe, the US, in combating ISIS: We can think about it if we see America starts confronting the terrorist groups in Iraq or elsewhere.
Iran has close ties with the Shia-dominated Iraqi leadership, which came to power after the toppling of president Saddam Hussein.
ISIS, a hardline Islamist militant group, grew during the US-led occupation and is one of several jihadist militias fighting the rule of Bashar al-Assad in neighbouring Syria.
According to unnamed sources quoted by both the Wall Street Journal and CNN, Iran has already sent several elite units of its Revolutionary Guard to help Iraq, but Iranian officials have denied this, the report added.
Iraq's most senior Shia cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, has issued a call to arms to fellow Shias.
The International Organisation for Migration estimates that 40,000 people have fled the cities of Tikrit and Samarra, adding to the 500,000 people who are already believed to have left Mosul city of Iraq.