(CNSNews.com) – Iranian airstrikes against Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS/ISIL) positions inside Iraq would have a “positive” effect, Secretary of State John Kerry said Wednesday. He would not “confirm or deny” whether the reported action had occurred, however, and reiterated that the U.S. still has no plans to coordinate with Iran in the battle against the jihadists.
Briefing reporters after a meeting of anti-ISIS coalition members in Brussels, Kerry was asked about reports – which the Pentagon believes to be true – that Iranian F-4 warplanes carried out strikes recently in Diyala, the Iraqi province stretching north-east of Baghdad to the Iranian border.
Kerry declined to confirm or deny the reported action, saying that that was for the Iranians or Iraqis to do, if the strikes in fact took place.
“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,” he said, then added, “But that’s not something that we’re coordinating.”
The U.S.-led coalition has carried out more than 1,000 airstrikes against ISIS targets in Iraq and Syria since last August.
Kerry stressed that the U.S. was “not only not coordinating militarily [with the Iranians] right now, but there are no plans at this time to coordinate militarily.”
Pentagon spokesman Navy Rear Adm. John Kirby said earlier the U.S. believed Iran had carried out the action inside Iraq.
“We have indications that they did indeed fly air strikes with F-4 Phantoms in the past several days,” he said.
Iranian government and military officials denied having carried out air strikes in Iraq “in cooperation or coordination with” the U.S.-led coalition, although the wording of the denials left open the possibility that it had done so without coordination.
Shi’ite Iran has strategic interests in both countries where ISIS is operating; it is a close ally and military supporter of Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime and the Shi’ite-led Iraqi government in their respective campaigns against the Sunni jihadists.
But Tehran has shown no interest in coordinating with the U.S.-led coalition, for several reasons.
Crucially, while Iran backs Assad to the hilt members of the anti-ISIS coalition generally want to see him removed – whether by military means or through a negotiated settlement.
Furthermore, despite U.S.-led efforts to defeat the jihadists, Iranian leaders have repeatedly charged that ISIS is in fact part of a Western and “Zionist” plot, with supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei calling the terrorist group a creation of the U.S. and Britain, designed to divide Muslims.
In a Nov. 25 speech, Khamenei took this criticism further, suggesting that when a U.S. airdrop to Kurdish fighters in Syria last October saw some supplies unintentionally fall into ISIS hands, that had not been an accident.
The supreme leader charged that the whole notion of an anti-ISIS coalition was “a downright lie.”
“This coalition follows other malevolent goals. They want to keep this fitna [strife] alive, pit the two sides against one another and continue the domestic war between Muslims.”
Last month the Wall Street Journal reported that Obama in a mid-October letter to Khamenei described a “shared interest” in fighting ISIS, and indicated that any cooperation in that area depended on Iran reaching a nuclear agreement with the P5+1 group of world powers.
Obama in a subsequent television interview denied making any such linkage, and reiterated that the U.S. would not coordinate with Iran against ISIS.
But, the president added, “there’s some deconflicting, in the sense that, since they have some troops or militias they control in and around Baghdad, we let them know, ‘don’t mess with us, we’re not here to mess with you. We’re focused on our common enemy.’”