Iran confirms air strikes in Iraq against ISIL - Guardian

The newspaper quoted Deputy Foreign Minister Ebrahim Rahimpour as saying the strikes were not coordinated with the United States

Iran confirms air strikes in Iraq against ISIL - Guardian

World Bulletin/News Desk

A senior Iranian official has confirmed his country carried out air strikes in neighbouring Iraq against ISIL fighters at the request of Iraqi authorities, Britain's Guardian newspaper reported.

It quoted Deputy Foreign Minister Ebrahim Rahimpour as saying the strikes were not coordinated with the United States, which is also waging an air campaign against the militants who control large parts of north and west Iraq.

The purpose of the strikes was "the defence of the interests of our friends in Iraq", the newspaper quoted Rahimpour as saying in an interview in London.

"We did not have any coordination with the Americans. We have coordinated only with the Iraqi government," he said. "In general, every military operation to help the Iraqi government is according to their requests."

Rahimpour's reported comments were the first from an Iranian official confirming Iran's role in the air strikes in the Iraqi province of Diyala, which borders Iran, in late November. On Wednesday an Iranian official had denied that Iran had launched any such strikes.

Diyala is an ethnically mixed province, where the Iraqi army, backed by Kurdish Peshmerga and Shi'ite militias drove ISIL out of several towns and villages last month.

Iraq's Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said on Wednesday he had no knowledge of Iranian air strikes. On Saturday, Finance Minister Hoshiyar Zebari told a security conference in Bahrain: "It's not 100 percent confirmed."

The Iranian role was first highlighted in footage filmed by Al Jazeera television, which appeared to show an F-4 Phantom striking ISIL positions in Diyala. Defence experts said Iran and Turkey were the only regional operators of the F-4, and Turkey is reluctant to take on ISIL militarily.

"We will not allow conditions in Iraq to descend to the level of Syria, which has been created by foreign players," the Guardian quoted Rahimpour as saying, referring to Syria's catastrophic three-year war in which Iran supports President Bashar al-Assad against rebels including ISIL.

"And certainly our assistance (to Iraq) is stronger than our assistance to Syria, because they are nearer to us," he said.

Rahimpour said Iran was also assisting Kurdish forces in northern Iraq, but repeated Tehran's insistence that it did not have any ground troops in Iraq. "This is only an advisory presence. There is no need to send Iranian troops to Iraq. There are sufficient Iraqi and Kurdish troops there," he said.

Lack of US, Iranian coordination in Iraq could be costly

Reports earlier this week that Iranian fighter jets reportedly conducted airstrikes against ISIL targets in Iraqi territory raised more than a few eyebrows.

While Secretary of State John Kerry neither confirmed nor denied the reports, he did offer that it is still "positive if they are conducting it independently."

Kerry’s reaction is noteworthy because for decades Iran and the U.S. have been on opposite sides of national security issues.

But despite fighting the same enemy, Kerry strictly rejected the possibility of any coordination with Iran in anti-ISIL operations.

That lack of coordination between foreign fighter pilots over Iraq causes concern for at least one American Cold War veteran pilot who says the situation could lead to unplanned catastrophes in the region.

"There could be incidents among the fighter pilots that are not planned by either government," Bruce Gordon told The Anadolu Agency.

"A fighter pilot will not ride on another fighter pilot to get in an attack position, but in a combat zone it is likely because they would not trust each other," said the former Air Force Major with 4,249 flight hours.

Gordon who is an expert in radar and electronic warfare systems said that keeping air forces separate is crucial, particularly if the control centers of the fighters are different.

"I know that even in Vietnam, it was hard to keep the U.S. Air Force separate from the U.S. Navy,” the retired pilot said.

“We were on the same side but because we were under different controls, the navy planes, when they came off a target they could run into other American fighters coming in from a different direction and we would not know whether they were American fighters or possibly North Vietnamese fighters. It is very dangerous."

He added that in the Middle East, unlike Vietnam, many countries are flying aircraft made by different nations.

“A hundred percent identification and de-conflicting is nearly impossible," he said.

The battle in the air aside, what also concerns Gordon is attacking targets on the ground that can also be problematic if air and ground forces are not well coordinated.

"Attacking on the ground, you need to have someone on the ground who can tell the pilots where the enemy targets and where the friends are." 

Gordon is not sure to what extent Iranians have accurate intelligence about the battle situation on the ground.

“If they don’t have proper information, they could easily leave bombs on wrong people,” he said.

U.S. military planners are no doubt aware of the dangers of Iranian, Gulf and American jets whizzing above Iraq without coordination, but there are hardliners on all sides who are preventing coordination, according to the former fighter pilot.

"There are hardliners in Iran and hardliners in America. The place I would like to be is in the middle, in coordinating with Iran,” he said. "I think Secretary (of State John) Kerry is also at that position."

Some Arab allies, particularly Saudi Arabia, are also against military coordination with Iran.

According to Gordon, Arabi allies would refuse to take part in anti-ISIL coalition if the U.S. accepts coordination with Iran.

“The problem is not that America is refusing to coordinate with Iran. I think it's our allies, particularly Saudi Arabia, who are very much against any settling of disputes with Iran." 

Sectarian division in the Middle East between Saudi Arabia and Iran presents the possibility of a conflict in Iraqi skies between Saudi and other Gulf countries’ fighters and Iranians.

Noting that Iranian pilots will not fly very far into Iraq and get into the areas where coalition aircrafts are operating, Gordon said that as long as they stay close to the border they may not cause a problem.

"I don't know to what extent the Saudis fly over Iraq. But if they run into an Iranian aircraft, they could easily get into a conflict with it,” he added. "It is important to keep them separated and it is the responsibility of Iraqi authorities.”

In case of any engagement between Iranian and Saudi aircraft, neither has the power to defeat the other.

“It will cause a big problem but they cannot take up the fight. Iran is a strong and big country so they can defend their territory,” he said.

But if Iran flies further into Iraq its planes could get close to the U.S. refueling tankers, and that would force the U.S. to take defensive positions as the tankers are totally defenseless aircrafts.

Political and military complications have forced the U.S. to maintain at least indirect coordination with Iraqi authorities, which Kerry said would be relied upon. 

"Indirect coordination is better than none," Gordon said. “But I do not think the communication is good. I think it goes through too many hands. I don't think the Iraqi air force is directly communicating with the Iranian air force. It probably passes through political people first in which case the message may get distorted. So it is dangerous."

Last Mod: 06 Aralık 2014, 12:02
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