TEHRAN — State media reported Saturday that an Iranian military pilot was killed in Iraq, the first confirmation that Iranian forces are involved in the Iraqi government’s battle to repel an offensive by al-Qaeda-inspired extremists.
IRNA, Iran’s official news agency, did not provide details of how or when the pilot was killed but said he died defending holy places in the Iraqi city of Samarra, which is home to an important Shiite pilgrimage site.
Tehran has repeatedly pledged its support for the Shiite-dominated government of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki but has said it would not send military forces into its embattled neighbor’s territory unless asked to do so.
Iranian officials are likely to defend their presence in Iraq. Protecting Shiite holy sites in Samarra and the Iraqi cities of Karbala and Najaf is considered part of the government’s responsibility in Iran, the world’s main Shiite power.
The semiofficial Fars News Agency published photos of a funeral that it said was for the pilot, who was identified as Col. Shoja’at Alamdari Mourjani, in his home province of Fars, in Iran’s south.