Baghdad (IraqiNews.com) US military warplanes have begun targetingIslamic Statepositions in the Iraqi city of Tikrit on Wednesday, a reversal that has placed American airpower dramatically close to a supporting role for Iranian-backed militias on the ground.
“I can confirm that the government ofIraqhas requested coalition support for operations in Tikrit. Operations are ongoing,” a Pentagon spokesman, army colonel Steve Warren, confirmed on Wednesday afternoon.
The senior general conducting the US’s latest war in Iraq, Lieutenant General James Terry, sidestepped all questions of Iranian involvement or influence in the fight for Tikrit in a statement on Wednesday.
The air strikes, which Terry said resulted from the direct request of the Iraqi prime minister, Haider Abadi, “will further enable Iraqi forces under Iraqi command to maneuver and defeat Isil in the vicinity of Tikrit”.
Though expected for the better part of a weekand unlikely to be coordinated with Iran’s proxies, the belated introduction of US combat aircraft above Tikrit has brought the Obama administration to an awkward point it has long dismissed: a tactical, if tacit, alliance with its greatest rival in the Middle East.
As the Iraqi forces nominally in charge of the fight for Tikrit billed their operation as a dry run for the more difficult, upcoming fight for Mosul – Iraq’s second largest city – the new US air strikes on Tikrit raise questions about the anti-Isis war moving formally toward US-Iranian cooperation, with a fig leaf of Iraqi coordination for mutual deniability.
The US military has stayed at arm’s distance from the month-long battle to seize the Sunni Iraqi city from Isis, seemingly out of concern for keeping the American and Iranian campaigns against the shared enemy functionally separate.
Yet as the ground offensive – led by Iraqi forces andwith Iranian-backed Shia militia in support– has stalled, US surveillance flights over Tikrit began earlier this week.