The US is sending an aircraft carrier and two guided missile ships into the Gulf, bolstering sea and air power before a possible US strike on the jihadist army in Iraq in the coming days.
Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel ordered the USS George HW Bush into the Gulf yesterday, a day after President Barack Obama indicated he would soon decide on air strikes against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), whose seizure of Sunni Iraqi cities has violently upended the region.
The 103,000-tonne warship and its air wing had been patrolling the North Arabian Sea and earlier this year were used in the Mediterranean following Russiaâ€™s invasion of Ukraine. The Bushâ€™s air wing includes four squadrons flying F/A-18 Super Hornet fighter jets, one squadron flying EA-18 Growler jammer and electronic-attack planes, and other maritime helicopters and early-warning planes.
Rear Admiral John Kirby, the Pentagon press secretary, said the Bush would be accompanied by the guided-missile cruiser USS Philippine Sea and the guided-missile destroyer USS Truxton. The ships are expected to arrive in the Gulf this evening.
Kirby described the deployment as increasing Obamaâ€™s martial flexibility â€œshould military options be required to protect American lives, citizens and interests in Iraqâ€, rather than signalling an imminent strike.
While Iran has in the past harassed US ships moving into the Gulf, its President, Hassan Rowhani, yesterday indicated openness to working alongside his countryâ€™s decades-old adversary, signalling an alignment of interests in protecting their mutual Iraqi partner.
â€œIf we see that the United States takes action against terrorist groups in Iraq, then one can think about it,â€ Rouhani told reporters, according to Agence France Presse. Iraqi officials told the Guardian yesterday that Iran had sent 2,000 advance troops across the border to help the Shia government of Iraq defend itself after the Iraqi army ran from ISIL in Mosul this week.
Obamaâ€™s contemplation of air strikes against ISIL creates the prospect of US air power bolstering Iranian ground operations, an awkward one given the animosity the militaries of the two nations, which are currently engaged in negotiations over Iranâ€™s nuclear programme, have long felt for each other.