Prophecy Alert: Iran Strikes ISIS In Iraq (Video)
|Analysts said Al Jazeera footage showed an Iranian F4 Phantom jet over Iraq (Photo courtesy of Al Jazeera)|
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BAGHDAD — When Iranian fighter jets struck extremist targets this week in Iraq, enforcing a self-declared buffer zone along the border, it was only the latest display of Tehran’s new willingness to conduct military operations openly on foreign battlefields rather than covertly and through proxies.
The shift stems in part from Iran’s deepening military role in Iraq in the war against the Sunni extremists of the Islamic State. But it also reflects a profound shift in Iran’s strategy, a new effort to exert Shiite influence around the region and counter Sunni powers such as Saudi Arabia.
Analysts also say it follows a calculation that what Iran’s rulers see as a less-engaged United States will tolerate or even encourage their overt military activities.While there is no direct coordination with the United States military in the region, there is what might be characterized as a de facto nonaggression pact, where the two sides stay out of each other’s way, as the Syrian government and the Americans do in managing airstrikes in Syria.
“We are flying missions over Iraq, we coordinate with the Iraqi government as we conduct those,” Rear Adm. John F. Kirby, the Pentagon’s press secretary, said on Tuesday. “It’s up to the Iraqi government to de-conflict that airspace.”
Iran has offered weapons to the Lebanese army and supported the Shiite Houthi rebels in Yemen that have taken over the capital, Sanna, where on Wednesday a car bomb struck the Iranian ambassador’s residence. In Syria, Hezbollah, the Iranian-supported Shiite militant movement, and the Iranian paramilitary Al Quds force, have kept President Bashar al-Assad in power. And in Iraq, Iran is cooperating at arm’s length with the United States, as the two rivals focus on fighting the Islamic State.
Iran’s once-elusive spymaster, Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani, the commander of the Quds force who has spent a career in the shadows orchestrating terrorist attacks — including some that killed American soldiers in Iraq — has emerged as a public figure, with pictures of the general on Iraq’s battlefields popping up on social media.
The apparent shift in Iran’s strategy has been most noticeable in Iraq, where even American officials acknowledge the decisive role of Iranian-backed militias, particularly in protecting Baghdad from an assault by the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL.
While Iran’s growing military role has proved essential in repelling the advances of the Islamic State, American officials worry that it could ultimately destabilize Iraq by deepening sectarian divisions. Iraq’s Sunnis blame the Iranian-backed Shiite militias for sectarian abuses, and are reluctant to join with the Iraqi government in the fight against extremists because of Iran’s influence.
Admiral Kirby said: “Our message to Iran is the same today as it was when it started, and as it is to any neighbor in the region that is involved in the anti-ISIL activities. And that’s that we want nothing to be done that further inflames sectarian tensions in the country.”
He said the Iranian airstrikes, which he indirectly confirmed by saying he had, “no reason to believe” the reports about them were untrue appeared so far to be limited.