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US reportedly mulling airstrikes in Tikrit

US reportedly mulling airstrikes in Tikrit
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Washington is reportedly considering launching airstrikes to support Iraqi forces and Iran-backed Shiite militia battling the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in Tikrit — a move that could bring the U.S. closer to cooperation with Iran. 

The potential airstrikes are "being discussed at a high level" and could be only days or weeks away, a U.S. official told Agence France-Presse. 

The statement comes after the Pentagon confirmed Monday that the U.S. has begun been providing intelligence for Iraqi forces in Tikrit for "several days" -- the first public confirmation of U.S. involvement in the battle that's been supported by Shiite militia with backing from Iran. 

The intelligence is being gathered by drones, and then provided to Iraqi forces, said Pentagon spokesman Army Col. Steve Warren. He said Iraq requested the intelligence support, and that he was confident it was not being shared directly with Iran. 

 

Kurdish officials have said Iran has sent at least 30,000 soldiers into Iraq to help Iraqi forces regain territory from ISIS, including in the battle for Tikrit. That battle has stalled in recent days due to defensive measures, such as roadside bombs planted by ISIS. 

U.S. officials deny any cooperation with Iran, and say they are working through Iraqis on airstrikes, which the U.S. and coalition forces have been providing in Iraq since August. So far, the U.S. has not provided any strikes in or around Tikrit.  

"The Iraqi Security Forces are responsible for battlefield deconfliction...no matter where it is," Warren said. He said U.S. forces have been sharing intelligence with Iraqi forces since the beginning, but 

The U.S. is within days of a deadline to reach a framework agreement with Iran to roll back its nuclear program. Officials say cooperation with Iran in Iraq is not part of any agreement, but a deal before the end of March could make it easier for cooperation against ISIS, which is seen as a common enemy. 

Top U.S. officials in recent days have warned of Iran's increasing role in Iraq. They worry Tehran's involvement could lead to greater sectarianism in the country — one of the conditions that allowed ISIS to move into Iraq last year and capture large swaths of territory in areas controlled by aggrieved Sunni populations.

Meanwhile, the U.S. is continuing to conduct strikes around Mosul, which Iraqi forces are expected to attempt to take back from ISIS sometime this year. 

The U.S. is helping train 12 brigades of Iraqi forces, including three peshmerga groups, to repel ISIS from the country.

-- Updated at 1:45 p.m.