Islamic State: France ready to launch Iraq air strikes

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Media captionPresident Hollande pledges French air support in the fight against Islamic State in Iraq

France's president says he has agreed to the Iraqi government's request for air support for forces fighting the jihadist group, Islamic State (IS).

Francois Hollande told reporters that French air strikes would only target the jihadist group's positions in Iraq, and not neighbouring Syria.

He also insisted that he would not send ground troops.

France is already carrying out reconnaissance flights over Iraq and providing weapons to Kurdish fighters.

US fighter jets and drones have undertaken more than 170 air strikes on IS in Iraq since mid-August, in an effort to protect US personnel and displaced Iraqis, and secure key infrastructure.

The air campaign has enabled Iraqi and Kurdish forces to retake the important Mosul Dam, along with several small towns.

However, the jihadists remain in control of dozens of cities and towns in Iraq and Syria, where they have announced the creation of a caliphate

'Positive response'

On Monday, France hosted an international conference that saw 26 countries pledge their commitment to supporting the new Iraqi government in its fight against IS "by any means necessary, including appropriate military assistance".

Shortly afterwards, French jets based at al-Dhafra in the United Arab Emirates began reconnaissance flights over Iraq.

At his twice-yearly news conference in Paris on Thursday, Mr Hollande said that he had told the authorities in Baghdad that France was now ready to carry out air strikes.

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Media captionGabriel Gatehouse reports from the front line of peshmerga-held territory in northern Iraq

"Our goal is to pursue peace and security in Iraq by weakening the terrorists," he said. "We won't go beyond that. There will be no troops on the ground and we will intervene only in Iraq."

Mr Hollande said the French aircraft would carry out attacks "as soon as we have identified targets -that means in a short time frame".

"It will be air support to protect Iraqi soldiers and Kurdish peshmerga forces to reduce and weaken this terrorist group," he added.

Last week, US President Barack Obama said he had also authorised air strikes in Syria, and called on Congress to approve his plan to train and equip moderate Syrian rebel groups to fight the jihadists on the ground.

The UK has been conducting reconnaissance flights in support of the US air campaign. It has not ruled out air strikes in Iraq or Syria, but has said targeting IS positions in the latter would be complicated.

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