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Iran jets strike ISIS targets

The Department of Defense said Iranian F-4 Phantoms conducted air strikes in Iraq's Diyala province.

Iranian F-4 Phantom fighter jets. (AFP/Behrouz Mehri)

BEIRUT – The US late Tuesday said that Iran had conducted air strikes against Islamic State group (ISIS) targets in the Diyala province near the Iraqi border with Iran.

 

“We have indications that they did indeed fly air strikes with F-4 phantoms in the past several days,” Pentagon spokesperson Rear Admiral John Kirby told reporters in reference to recent media reports.

 

On Sunday, Jane’s Defence Weekly—a leading civilian military analysis service—reported that an Iranian McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom II jet had hit an ISIS target in a video broadcast by Al-Jazeera.

 

“At least one F-4 is seen conducting a bombing run against ground targets in the footage shot by Al Jazeera, which erroneously identified the aircraft as an Iraqi fighter,” it said.

 

Jane’s said that Iran and Turkey are the only countries in the region to operate the F-4 jet, but added that the “location of the incident not far from the Iranian border, and Turkey's unwillingness to get involved in the conflict militarily” indicates it was an Iranian jet.

 

Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Times cited unnamed US military officials as saying that “Baghdad approved the operation and ensured that the airspace was free of American or other coalition warplanes.”

 

The Department of Defense’s spokesperson in his Tuesday press briefing made an implicit reference to Iraq’s role in approving the strikes, saying, “It’s up to the Iraqi government to deconflict that airspace.”

 

However, Iraqi Premier Haider al-Abadi told the press on Wednesday that he had “no knowledge of any Iranian air strikes.”

 

Iran, for its part, flatly denied it had conducted sorties over Iraq, with a top military official telling Fars news agency the reports are “totally untrue.”

 

US-Iran “coordination”

 

The reported Iranian strikes in Iraq brought to the fore the issue of US-Iranian coordination against ISIS in Iraq, where Shiite-militias have received public support from Iranian Qods Force Commander Qassem Soleimani.

 

The Pentagon said that Washington has continued to maintain its stated policy of not coordinating with Tehran in the military campaign against ISIS.

 

“Nothing has changed about our policy of not coordinating military activity with the Iranians,” Kirby said.

 

Meanwhile, Iranian Armed Forces Deputy Chief of Staff Massoud Jazayeri reiterated Tehran’s public condemnation of the US-led military campaign in Iraq.

 

“The Islamic Republic of Iran blames the US as the root cause of unrests and problems as well as the terrorist actions of ISIS in Iraq,” he told Fars on Wednesday.

 

“The US will definitely have no room or place in the future of that country.”

 

The Iranian strikes come weeks after US President Barack Obama penned a secret letter to Iranian leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, in which Obama reportedly brought up “shared interests” between the two countries in fighting ISIS.

 

Diyala campaign

 

The recording of an Iranian F-4 jet took place in the Diyala province—stretching northeast from Baghdad to the Iranian border—during battles outside two towns ISIS had held.

 

In late November, Shiite militants and Kurdish Peshmerga forces stormed the towns of Saadiyeh and Jalawla not far from the Iranian border, reportedly driving ISIS fighters out of the towns and into nearby areas.

 

An Al-Jazeera crew reporting on the fighting in the area videotaped the Iranian fighter jet, which was manufactured in the US and provided to Iran prior to the 1979 revolution, conducting a bombing raid in the area of the two towns on November 30.

 

The Los Angeles Times on Wednesday quoted conservative Iranian politician Hamid Reza Taraghi as saying that Tehran “regards the area as a buffer zone and does not tolerate any military threats within that buffer zone.”

Iranian F-4 Phantom fighter jets. (AFP/Behrouz Mehri)