WASHINGTON - The United States has indications that Iran has carried out airstrikes on Islamic State targets in Iraq in recent days, U.S. officials said on Wednesday.
A senior Iranian official denied that Iran had launched any such strikes.
U.S. officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the United States had indications that Iran had used F-4 Phantoms to launch the raids in the last several days.
An Iraqi security expert said the strikes took place 10 days ago near the Iranian border.
“It is true that Iranian planes hit some targets in Diyala. Of course the government denies it because they have no radars,” Hisham al-Hashemi told Reuters.
Diyala is an ethnically mixed province, where the Iraqi army, backed by Kurdish peshmerga and Shiite militias, last month drove Islamic State out of several towns and villages.
A British-based analyst said footage on Al Jazeera of an F-4 Phantom striking an Islamic State target in Diyala was the first visual evidence of direct Iranian air force involvement in the conflict.
“Iran and Turkey are the only regional operators of the F-4, and with the location of the incident not far from the Iranian border and Turkey’s unwillingness to get involved in the conflict militarily, indicators point to this being an Islamic Republic of Iran Air Force aircraft,” said Gareth Jennings of IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry declined comment on the Iranian airstrikes.
“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.
He said the United States was not coordinating military activity with Iran.
Pentagon spokesman Rear Adm. John Kirby told a Washington news briefing on Tuesday that it was up to the Iraqis to manage their airspace.
“It’s the Iraqi airspace and (Iraq’s) to deconflict. We are not coordinating with nor are we deconflicting with Iranian military,” Kirby said. Deconflict in military parlance means to avoid overlap.
The prospect of U.S. and Iranian militaries separately carrying out airstrikes in the same country raises questions about the degree of advanced coordination that might be needed, even indirectly, to avoid a mishap.
A senior Iranian official said no raids had been carried out and Tehran had no intention of cooperating with Washington.
“Iran has never been involved in any airstrikes against Daesh (Islamic State) targets in Iraq. Any cooperation in such strikes with America is also out of question for Iran,” the senior official said on condition of anonymity.
Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, in Brussels for a meeting of the U.S.-led coalition against Islamic State, said he was not aware of any Iranian airstrikes.
While Shiite Iran and the United States have been at odds for decades, they have a common enemy in Islamic State, the hardline Sunni group that has seized large areas of Iraq and Syria.
Iran backs the Iraqi Shiite militias that are battling Islamic State and has sent senior commanders to help advise the Iraqi army and militia operations since the group took parts of northern Iraq in the summer. Iraqi officials say there are no Iranian troops on its soil.
Kerry said the U.S.-led coalition had inflicted serious damage on Islamic State, carrying out around 1,000 airstrikes so far in Iraq and Syria, but the fight against the militants could last years.