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The Phantom F-4 Phantom? Iran Denies Air Strikes On IS In Iraq


U.S. claim that Iranian Phantom fighter jets have hit IS targets in recent days.

U.S. claim that Iranian Phantom fighter jets have hit IS targets in recent days.

Iran has denied claims by the Pentagon that its F4 Phantom fighter jets carried out strikes against Islamic State (IS) militants in Iraq.

U.S. officials told Reuters on December 3 that Iran's F-4 phantoms had struck IS positions in the eastern Diyala province in the last several days.

However, a senior Iranian official denied the reports, telling the Reuters news agency that "Iran has never been involved in any air strikes against [Islamic State] targets in Iraq."

Iranian media were quick to repeat the denials that Iran had carried out air strikes in Iraq. The Young Journalists Club (YJC) outlet headlined with "Tehran has not carried out any air strikes against IS positions in Iraq."

Meanwhile, Iran's Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, Marziyeh Afkham, said on December 3 in response to questions as to whether Iranian fighter jets had struck Islamic State targets that there had been "no change in Iranian policy" on helping the Iraqi government by offering advice on dealing with "terrorist and takfiri groups."

"Iran will continue to provide military advice to Iraq, and there has been no change in our policy," Afkham insisted.

Iran's official position, which it has maintained throughout the Syrian crisis, is that it has not provided any form of ground troops or other military assistance either to its ally President Bashar al-Assad in Syria or in the fight against Islamic State group militants in Iraq.

However, there is mounting evidence that Iran has provided military assistance beyond on-the-ground advisors to Assad, including several reports of Iranian military personnel killed in Syria. In June, for example, the Iranian Defense Ministry announced that a retired senior commander in the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) had been killed in fighting south of Damascus.

In Iraq, Tehran has made efforts to promote reports that the commander of the Qods Force, Major General Qassem Suleimani, has been leading efforts to help Iraqi forces combat Islamic State.

On October 26, Iraq's new interior minister, Muhammad Salim al-Ghabban, insisted that the Iraqi Army's victory over Islamic State in the strategic town of Jurf al-Sakhar (now renamed to Jurf al-Nasr) had been overseen by Suleimani, without the assistance of the U.S.-led coalition.

A month later, on November 23, Kurdish Peshmerga and Shi'ite militias said that Suleimani had helped them retake two towns in Diyala province, Jalawla and Saadiya.

Given the evidence of Iran's military involvement in Syria, and its ongoing assistance to Iraqi forces in Iraq, particularly in Diyala province, is it likely that Iranian F-4 Phantoms did fly missions against Islamic State in that province?

Reuters cites an Iraqi security expert, Hisham al-Hashemi, as saying that Iranian planes did "hit some targets in Diyala" while a British-based analyst noted that only Iran and Turkey operate F-4s in the region.

While Iran denies flying the missions and the United States suggesting that it did, there is one thing that both countries agree on.

Pentagon spokesman Rear Admiral John Kirby told reporters on December 2 that the United States is "not coordinating with nor are we deconflicting with Iranian military."

And on December 3, Iran's Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Afkham also denied that Iran was cooperating with other countries in the fight against Islamic State militants.

So while Washington and Tehran share an enemy and an ally in Iraq, there are two independent campaigns to support that ally against that enemy.

-- Joanna Paraszczuk

About This Blog

"Under The Black Flag" provides news, opinion, and analysis about the impact of the Islamic State (IS) extremist group in Syria, Iraq, and beyond. It focuses not only on the fight against terrorist groups in the Middle East, but also on the implications for the region and the world. The blog's primary author, James Miller, closely covered the first three years of the Arab Spring, with a focus on Syria, and is now the managing editor of The Interpreter, where he covers Russia's foreign and domestic policy and the Kremlin's wars in Syria and Ukraine. Follow him on Twitter: @Millermena

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