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Report: Pentagon aware of Iranian jets bombing Islamic State within Iraq

Pentagon Press Secretary Navy Rear Adm. John Kirby.

DEFENSE DEPARTMENT FILE PHOTO

By STARS AND STRIPES Published: December 2, 2014

The U.S. is aware Iran is bombing Islamic State targets in Iraq, according to a report on The Huffington Post.

The news website reported a defense official as saying he thinks the Iranian bombing is unlikely to end as long as the Shiite-dominated nation feels threatened by the Sunni extremist group, also called ISIS or ISIL, and that the bombing will not require a U.S. response unless Iran presents a threat to U.S. forces.

“We are aware of that. I wouldn’t say we’re necessarily concerned with it — we kind of have our eyes on it,” the official is quoted as saying.

Huffington Post said the official noted that the flights have been taking place near the Iranian border, in a different part of Iraq than most U.S. and coalition activity.

While previous reports have said that Iran has provided weapons and equipment to the Iraqi government, the official’s comments represent the first confirmation that Iran’s own air force is involved in the fight in Iraq against the Islamic State.

The defense official’s comments offered evidence for recent claims about an Iranian jet in Iraqi skies made by IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly, a British defense analysis firm, and Haaretz, a leading Israeli newspaper. The plane, both outlets said, was spotted in Al Jazeera video footage from late November. They said it was assisting the Iraqi military in its biggest campaign against the Islamic State since the summer.

Neither outlet could verify whether the jet was Iranian: Both noted that only Iran and Turkey, a member of the U.S.-led coalition that has yet to militarily target the Islamic State, fly the kind of jet seen in the video.

The sheer extent of U.S. involvement in Iraq makes undetected Iranian air activity there unlikely, the defense official said. “We are there pretty heavily in the air if you include [intelligence collection], so just looking at those facts we have a pretty good picture of what’s happening in Iraqi airspace. We would not be operating in Iraq without having a clear picture.”

The White House declined to comment on the defense official’s statement or the previous reports, according to Huffington Post. The State Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

During a news conference Tuesday, Pentagon press secretary Rear Adm. John Kirby was asked whether he could confirm reports that Iranian planes have conducted airstrikes in the last several days against the militants in eastern Iraq.

“We have no indication that the reports are not true,” he told reporters, while declining to explicitly acknowledge that the raids are taking place.

He emphasized that that there is no military cooperation between the U.S. and Iran, which both view the Islamic State as an enemy.

“It’s the Iraqis’ airspace and the Iraqis’ [responsibility] to deconflict [aircraft]. We are not coordinating with nor are we deconflicting with Iranian [forces],” he said. “Nothing has changed about our policy of not coordinating military activity with the Iranians.”

Kirby said the Iraqis are “competent enough” to carry out the task of deconfliction — making sure aircraft operate safely in the same airspace.

Kirby was asked if the Pentagon views Iranian military activity in Iraq as a positive influence.

“Our message to Iran is the same today as it was when this [campaign against the Islamic State] started — as it is to any neighbor in the region that is involved in anti-ISIL activities — and that’s that we want nothing to be done that further inflames sectarian tensions in the country,” he said, but “we’re not taking a position on this particular report for these particular strikes.”

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