DUBAI — Iran's top leader rejected possible intervention in Iraq by the United States or any other outside power, accusing Washington on Sunday of trying to manipulate Iraqi sectarian differences to retake control of the country it once occupied.
In remarks published by the official IRNA news agency, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei added that Iraqis themselves could end violence in their country, where Iran has steadily built up its own influence over the past decade.
"American authorities are trying to portray this as a sectarian war, but what is happening in Iraq is not a war between Shiite and Sunnis," said Khamenei, who has the last word in all matters in Shiite Muslim Iran.
"It is indeed the same old hegemonic order using leftovers of the Saddam (Hussein) regime as its key pieces, and the Takfiri dogmatic elements as foot soldiers," he told judiciary officials, using a term referring to Sunni Islamist militants.
Sign up for breaking news alerts from NBC News
Masked jihadists of the militant Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) have captured swathes of northern Iraq this month, aiming to create an Islamic Caliphate which ignores boundaries set by colonial powers a century ago.
The advance has been driven by an amalgam of Sunni tribal and Islamist militias, and former officers of Saddam Hussein's Baath Party, united in hatred of the Shiite-led government, which they accuse of marginalising their sect. But ISIS has spearheaded the revolt and assaults on cities and towns.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has said his countrymen will not hesitate to defend Shiite shrines in Iraq if need be, but he has also said, like Khamenei, that Iraqis are capable of doing that job themselves.
Thousands of Shiite Iraqis have responded to calls to take up arms and defend the country against the insurgency.
Khamenei said he was strongly opposed to intervention by the United States or other countries in Iraq, adding Washington wanted to re-establish control over the oil-exporting country.
"The U.S. is seeking an Iraq under its hegemony and ruled by its stooges," Khamenei was quoted as saying.
Khamenei made no mention of possible cooperation with the United States on Iraq, an idea that Rouhani, in answer to a question at a June 14 news conference, said Tehran might consider if Washington tackled "terrorist groups" in the region.