Iranian Airstrikes on Islamic State in Iraq a Plus, Kerry Says

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry called Iranian airstrikes on Islamic State forces in Iraq a positive step, as the Pentagon confirmed the first such attacks.

“It’s self-evident that if Iran is taking on ISIL in some particular place, and it’s confined to taking on ISIL and has an impact, it’s going to be -- the net effect is positive,” Kerry said in Brussels today, using an acronym for Islamic State’s former name. “But that’s not something we’re coordinating” with Iran.

Iranian involvement in the airstrikes against the Sunni extremists in Iraq nonetheless brings the Islamic Republic’s efforts closer to those of the Obama administration. The U.S. hasn’t invited the Iranians to join the coalition against Islamic State, and Iran has said it wouldn’t join. Iraqi Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi said earlier this week that Iran has sent military advisers to his country to help in the fight.

While Kerry declined to “confirm or deny” the reported airstrikes, Rear Admiral John Kirby, the U.S. Defense Department spokesman, said in an e-mailed statement today that “we believe that Iranian military aircraft conducted airstrikes into eastern Iraq in the last several days.”

At a meeting in Brussels of representatives from 60 nations backing the U.S.-led campaign against Islamic State, Kerry said that “we’re not only not coordinating militarily right now, but there are no plans at this time to coordinate militarily” with Iran.

Abadi Unaware

Abadi, also in Brussels, said he was unaware whether Iran conducted airstrikes against Islamic State in his country.

“Did they have a role in that? That’s news for me,” Abadi said. “I am not aware there were Iranian airstrikes.”

Footage aired Nov. 30 by broadcaster Al Jazeera showed at least one F-4 Phantom II jet striking Islamic State in the eastern Iraqi province of Diyala, according to an analysis by Gareth Jennings, an analyst for IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly.

The jet appears to be offering air support to Iraqi forces retaking the town of Sa’adiya, Jennings wrote, calling the footage the “the first visual evidence of direct” Iranian air force involvement.

Kerry said in Brussels that U.S.-led airstrikes are starting to roll back Islamic State’s advances in Iraq.

The militants’ “earlier momentum has dissipated” after about 1,000 airstrikes in Iraq and Syria, which have hurt the group’s leadership and “inflicted damage on its logistical and operational” capabilities, Kerry said. While most of the attacks were carried out by U.S. planes, NATO allies and Arab Gulf states have joined the campaign.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, whose government isn’t part of the U.S. coalition, though it’s also fighting Islamic State, denied that much progress has been made.

“After two months of the alliance’s airstrikes, there are no tangible results on the ground,” Assad said in an interview to be published tomorrow in Paris Match, according to the Syrian state news service. “We are the ones fighting the battles against ISIS on the ground,” he said, using another acronym for Islamic State’s former name.

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