Middle East

Islamic State: Kerry says any Iran strikes 'positive'

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Media captionJohn Kerry: ''The momentum which (Islamic State) had exhibited two-and-a-half months ago has been halted''

US Secretary of State John Kerry says any Iranian action against Islamic State (IS) in Iraq would be "positive".

He would not confirm Pentagon claims that Iran carried out strikes on IS. Iran is not a member of the US-led coalition and denies any co-operation.

Mr Kerry praised the alliance for inflicting "significant" damage on IS, but said IS ideology, funding and recruitment needed to be destroyed.

His comments came after the coalition's first high-level meeting in Brussels.

IS controls large areas of Syria and Iraq, imposing a rigid version of Sunni Islam and persecuting or killing non-believers.

Analysis: Jonathan Marcus, BBC News

The reported Iranian air strikes against Islamic State targets in Iraq underscore that while Iran and the US are not exactly on the same side in this struggle (due not least to the Iranians' support for President Bashar al-Assad in Syria) they do at least share the same enemy in IS.

Iran is of course a long-standing ally of Iraq's Shia-dominated government and was the first country to offer military support for its campaign against IS. Earlier this year Iran provided a number of SU-25 Frogfoot combat aircraft to Iraq which may well be crewed by Iranian pilots.

Iran has also provided high-level military expertise and there have been unconfirmed reports of Iranian armour being involved in fighting on the ground. Washington and Tehran have certainly had discussions about the common IS threat but it is far from clear how much, if any, actual coordination there has been between them.

Defeating ideology

"Daesh (Islamic State) is still perpetrating terrible crimes but there was a consensus that the momentum which it had exhibited two and a half months ago has been halted," Mr Kerry said after a meeting of foreign ministers and officials from all the nations involved in the coalition.

But destroying IS, he warned, "is going to require defeating the ideology, the funding, the recruitment and the devastation that they'd been able to inflict on people in the region".

Asked about reports of an Iranian jet spotted in TV footage flying over Iraq, Mr Kerry said: "If Iran is taking on (IS) in some particular place... and it has an impact, then it's going to be net effect (that) is positive."

However, he refused to comment on whether such attacks had taken place, saying it was up to Iran and Iraq to do so. He also stressed that the US was not co-ordinating on military activity with Iran.

Iran's Phantom jets

Image copyright AFP
  • The jet is "one of the most versatile fighters ever built", according to Boeing. It first flew in 1958 and was last produced in 1979
  • The jets saw frequent combat in Iran's war with Iraq, and have taken part in fly-pasts in Iran in recent years
  • Iran has struggled to find spare parts because of US sanctions. Israeli arms dealers have been accused of illegally supplying parts to Iran on several occasions. One such deal was reported in Greece this year by Kathimerini newspaper and other media

Earlier, the Pentagon said it had received indications that Iran deployed F4 phantom jets on IS positions in the Iraqi province of Diyala.

Al-Jazeera footage of a jet over Iraq has been identified by Jane's Defence Weekly as an Iranian Phantom.

But an unnamed Iranian official, who spoke to Reuters, said Iran "has never been involved in any air strikes against" Islamic State.

The Iranian foreign ministry meanwhile denied any military co-operation with countries fighting Islamic State. Its spokeswoman, Marzieh Afkham, described such claims as "imprecise and incorrect".

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi also told reporters he was not aware of any Iranian air strikes, speaking at the Brussels meeting.

"Did they have a role in that? That's news for me," the Associated Press quoted him as saying.

Shia Muslim-ruled Iran has close ties to Iraq's Shia-led government, which has struggled to counter IS in its north and west.

Effective strikes?

Mr Kerry earlier praised the effectiveness of coalition air strikes, saying they were "already having a significant impact".

Two months of air strikes had "reduced Daesh's [IS] leadership and inflicted damage on its logistical and operational capabilities," he added.

Image copyright AL JAZEERA
Image caption Analysts said Al Jazeera footage showed an Iranian F4 Phantom jet over Iraq (Photo courtesy of Al Jazeera)

But Syrian President Bashar al-Assad described the air strikes as ineffective, speaking in a rare interview with a French magazine due to be published in full on Thursday.

"You can't end terrorism with aerial strikes. Troops on the ground that know the land and can react are essential," he told Paris Match.

"That is why there haven't been any tangible results in the two months of strikes led by the coalition."

The US state department says nearly 60 countries are coalition members, although most play no direct role in the air strikes.

Mr Abadi told Nato chief Jens Stoltenberg he would formally ask the alliance to help train Iraqi forces, according to Nato spokeswoman Oana Lungescu.

A joint coalition statement released after the meeting said efforts would focus on:

  • supporting military operations
  • stopping the flow of foreign fighters
  • cutting IS access to financing and funding
  • addressing humanitarian relief
  • exposing IS's "true nature" (ideological de-legitimisation)

Since the Islamic revolution in 1979, the US and Iran have had a fraught relationship.

Washington severed ties the following year after Iranian students occupied the US embassy in Tehran and took 52 Americans hostage. They were freed in 1981.