WASHINGTON (CBS DC) — Iranian airstrikes were conducted against ISIS militants in Iraq over the past week, showing Tehran’s growing military role against the Sunni extremists, and exposing that the U.S. and Iran have a common goal despite no acknowledgement of an alliance from either country.
Iranian and Pentagon officials confirmed that Iran had stepped up its military presence in Iraq over the past week, including their use of 1970s-era fighter jets to strike Islamic State targets in a buffer zone that extends 25 miles into Iraq, The New York Times reports. And while there has been no direct acknowledgement of any coordination between the U.S. and Iran, officials have called the anti-ISIS strikes as “positive.”
Secretary of State John Kerry was careful to push away any appearance of coordination, but he and other U.S. officials have made clear that the Iranians have increased their military prowess in Iraq.
“I am not going to make any announcements or confirm or deny the reported military action of another country in Iraq. It is up to them (the Iranians) or up to the Iraqis to do that if it did indeed took place,” Kerry told a news conference in Brussels.
“I think it’s self-evident that if Iran is taking on ISIL in some particular place and it’s confined to taking on ISIL and it has an impact, it’s going to be — the net effect is positive,” said Kerry. “But that’s not something that we’re coordinating.”
Iraqi leaders say that Tehran is “unlike the Americans” in that the U.S. is hesitant to back Iraq’s security forces, while Iran has been quick to their aid. Following ISIS attacks on Mosul in June, President Barack Obama took a calculated military approach but Iran was the first to the fight.
“When Baghdad was threatened, the Iranians did not hesitate to help us, and did not hesitate to help the Kurds when Erbil was threatened,” Iraq’s prime minister, Haider al-Abadi, said in a recent television interview, referencing the Kurdish capital in northern Iraq.
“And the reason Iran did not hesitate to help us,” al-Abadi added, “was because they consider ISIS as a threat to them, not only to us.”
The strikes come as the U.S. and Iran continue attempts to hash out a deal over Iran’s nuclear program, which Shiite politicians tell the Times would encourage greater cooperation between the two countries militarily.
Ali Khedery, a former American official in Iraq, told The Times, “For the Iranians, really, the gloves are off.”
On Tuesday, Pentagon spokesman Rear Adm. John Kirby deferred any direct support for the Iranian strikes against militant targets, saying it’s Iraq’s issue.
“It’s the Iraqi air space and (Iraq’s) to deconflict. We are not coordinating with nor are we deconflicting with Iranian military,” Kirby said.
But a senior Iranian official denied any acknowledgement of the Iraq strikes and said cooperation with Washington is “out of question for Iran.”