|English: Image from Iraqi state television. Reproduced here http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/middle_east/1119969.stm Category:Arab nationalists (Photo credit: Wikipedia)|
BAGHDAD: Iran's elite Revolutionary Guards are fighting alongside Iraqi troops against militants in northern Iraq. Tehran's direct involvement in Iraq's battle comes as leading Shi'ite cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali Al Sistani urged Iraqis to take up arms against jihadists' relentless push towards Baghdad amid US President Barack Obama's statement that he was exploring all options to save Iraq's security forces from collapse.
Iran has sent more than 500 Revolutionary Guard troops to fight alongside Iraqi government security forces in Diyala province, a senior security official in Baghdad told CNN.
As Iraq further disintegrated, residents fled Mosul in droves. Militants captured the country's second-largest city this week after soldiers scattered, leaving their uniforms and weapons behind.
A Saudi prince, meanwhile, blamed the Iraqi government of Nuri Al Maliki for the loss of wide areas of northern Iraq to militants, saying Baghdad had failed to stop them joining forces with former Baathists from the Saddam Hussein era.
Prince Turki Al Faisal, a former Saudi intelligence chief, said the radical Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) insurgency should have come as no surprise.
He said the situation in Iraq was changing so swiftly that it was impossible to say what would happen in coming days and weeks. But he said it could lead to some unexpected outcomes if the US became involved in the fighting three years after its occupation of Iraq ended in 2011.
"One of the distinct potential ironies that may come about is to see Iranian Revolutionary Guards fighting with American drones to kill Iraqis," he said in Rome.
"This is something that will boggle the mind and make one wonder where we are going."
Prime Minister Maliki heads a Shi'ite-dominated government that is backed by Iran and which Sunnis say has marginalised and persecuted them since Saddam's fall to the US-led invasion a decade ago.
The prince also said Saudi Arabia firmly opposed ISIL, noting that it was on Saudi list of terrorist organisations.
A senior Obama administration official yesterday said that the President has not yet made a decision on whether to act on any military options. But another senior administration official indicated that a decision could come as early as today or tomorrow.
Air strikes are among the options on the table, the White House said. But there will be no repeat of a large US troop presence on Iraqi soil.
Secretary of State John Kerry earlier said the latest events had been a "wake-up call" for Iraq's divided political leadership, which has been accused of failing to address growing sectarian divisions.