Dan De Luce, AFP
The air raids marked an escalation in Iran’s role in a conflict that has seen Tehran and the Washington set aside their customary hostility to battle a common enemy in the IS group, which both governments view as a dangerous threat. “We have indications that they did indeed fly air strikes with F-4 Phantoms in the past several days,” Pentagon spokesman Rear Admiral John Kirby told AFP. His comments came days after Al-Jazeera ran footage of what appeared to be an F-4 fighter, similar to those used by the Iranian air force, attacking targets in the eastern province of Diyala. Iranian forces have been active on the ground in Iraq assisting Shiite militia and Baghdad government units, but this was the first time the United States had confirmed the Iranian air force was conducting strikes against the IS group.
No military coordination with Iran
Kirby said the United States was not coordinating with Iranian forces and that it was up to the Iraqi government to oversee military flights by different countries.
“We are flying missions over Iraq. We coordinate with the Iraqi government as we conduct those. It’s up to the Iraqi government to deconflict that air space,” Kirby told reporters. “Nothing has changed about our policy of not coordinating military activity with the Iranians.” Even if there is no direct communication between the two countries’ forces, the Americans likely would be aware and easily monitor flights over Iraq by Iran’s less sophisticated air fleet, which uses a fighter jet that dates back to the Vietnam War. A US air command center in Qatar coordinates American fighters, bombers, drones and surveillance aircraft flying round-the-clock missions over Iraq along with other coalition warplanes from European governments as well as Australia and Canada. The onslaught of the IS in Iraq has forged an unlikely alignment between Iran and the United States, which have been locked in a cold war for more than three decades. The fight against the IS has come amid a US diplomatic drive to agree a deal with Iran over its nuclear program, and officials acknowledge the two sides have discussed the war in Iraq on the margins of the nuclear talks. But the two rivals remain deeply opposed over Syria, with Iran providing crucial military backing for President Bashar al-Assad while Washington has vowed to train a moderate rebel force to eventually confront the Damascus regime.