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Iran offers help if US acts against Iraq militants

BAGHDAD -- Shiite Iran offered Saturday to consider working with longtime foe the United States if it takes the lead in helping push back Sunni Arab militants, who have seized a swathe of northern 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.

Iraqi 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-Qaida sparked sectarian conflict that killed tens of thousands.

U.S. 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 kilometers) of Baghdad city limits but ruled out any return of U.S. combat troops.

“We will not be sending U.S. 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.

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,” Rouhani told a press conference.

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