15 June 2014
Last updated at 00:13
The USS George HW Bush is being moved from the North Arabian Sea to the Gulf with two other vessels
The US says it is sending a warship into the Gulf to provide President Obama with military options should the situation in Iraq deteriorate further.
US Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel ordered the USS George HW Bush, which carries dozens of fighter jets, to be moved from the North Arabian Sea.
Meanwhile, Iran says it could be prepared to work with the US to fight Sunni insurgents in Iraq.
The insurgents have seized several cities and are closing in on Baghdad.
Fighting under the banner of The Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIS), they regard Iraq’s Shia majority as “infidels”.
Iraqi security forces, bolstered by an increasing number of Shia and Kurdish militiamen, are trying to take a stand in Salahaddin and Diyala provinces, to the north of the capital.
US President Barack Obama has said he will take several days to decide what action to take over Iraq, but insisted that no US troops will be deployed.
The aircraft carrier will be accompanied by the guided-missile cruiser USS Philippine Sea and the guided-missile destroyer USS Truxtun. They were due to arrive in the Gulf late on Saturday.
A Pentagon official said they were being deployed to provide President Obama with flexibility, should military options be required to protect American lives and interests in Iraq.
Analysis: Richard Galpin, BBC News
A long line of pick-up trucks and cars sped through the streets of central Baghdad on Saturday filled with heavily armed men; a cacophony of blaring horns, sirens and pumping music heralding their arrival.
It was evidence that the call to arms made on Friday by the most senior Shia religious leader Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, was being heeded in the capital as in other cities, particularly in the Shiite-dominated south.
The convoy was manned by members of a Shiite militia called the Mahdi Army, which has sprung back to life in recent days, after lying low following its notorious role in the sectarian conflict with the minority Sunni community, which came to an end about six years ago.
One cleric, sitting with a driver and bodyguard in an expensive four-by-four vehicle, said they were prepared to fight to the death and “splash their blood” to rid Iraq of the ISIS “terrorists”.
Other members of the militia said they would help defend Baghdad and head further north to bolster the regular army on the frontlines in Diyala and Salahaddin provinces.
Struggle for Iraq: In maps
Is this the end of Iraq?
Earlier, the Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki addressed troops in the city of Samarra, north of Baghdad, insisting: “This is the beginning of the end of them [ISIS].”
Iraq’s most senior Shia cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, has issued a call to arms to fellow Shias.
There are reports that thousands have already joined Shia militias, which could play a crucial role in the defence of Baghdad, says the BBC’s Richard Galpin who is in the city.
Fears of ISIS sparking a wider Sunni uprising have increased with reports that other groups have joined the insurgents’ advance.
The BBC’s Jim Muir in northern Iraq spoke to former General Muzhir al Qaisi, a spokesman for the General Military Council of the Iraqi Revolutionaries, a Sunni group that entered Mosul alongside ISIS fighters.
General al Qaisi described ISIS as enemies of his militia, but said they did not want clashes with them to slow their march towards Baghdad to oust the government.
Meanwhile, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said he had offered direct assistance to Baghdad but denied that he had sent troops to fight in Iraq.
However, the BBC’s Kasra Naji in Iraq has been told that more than 130 of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards have arrived to provide training and advice. An Iranian general is also reported to be in the capital.
General Qassem Suleimani, the top commander of Iran’s Quds Force, is said to be organising Iraqi Shia militia groups that are loyal to Iran.
President Rouhani did not rule out co-operating with the US in combating ISIS, saying: “We can think about it if we see America starts confronting the terrorist groups in Iraq or elsewhere.”
ISIS in Iraq
- The Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) has 3,000 to 5,000 fighters, and grew out of an al-Qaeda-linked organisation in Iraq
- Joined in its offensives by other Sunni militant groups, including Saddam-era officers and soldiers, and sympathetic Sunni tribal fighters
- ISIS has exploited the standoff between the Iraqi government and the minority Sunni Arab community, which complains that Shia Prime Minister Nouri Maliki is monopolising power
- The organisation is led by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, an obscure figure regarded as a battlefield commander and tactician
Are you in Saadiya, Jalawla or Baghdad? Have you been affected by the latest developments? You can email [email protected] using the title ‘Iraq’.
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