US Secretary of State John Kerry has welcomed any Iranian military action against Islamic State jihadists in Iraq as “positive” after the Pentagon said Tehran had carried out air strikes against the group.
Kerry, hosting a meeting of an anti-IS coalition in Brussels, on Wednesday said international air strikes were finally stopping the advance of the jihadists across Iraq and Syria, however, warned it could take years to finally defeat them.
But in a sign of the deepening complexity of the regional conflagration, Syria’s Iranian-backed President Bashar al-Assad criticised the Western and Arab air strikes for having no effect.
Kerry told the meeting of officials from 60 states in the coalition that a campaign of around 1000 strikes had had a “significant” impact on the Sunni extremist IS, which declared a caliphate in Syria and Iraq in June.
“Our commitment will most likely be measured in years,” he told the meeting at NATO headquarters, adding that the partners would “engage in this campaign for as long as it takes to prevail”.
He denied there was any military coordination with Iran, after the Pentagon said earlier that Iranian F-4 Phantom jets – acquired from the United States before the 1979 Islamic revolution – had deployed against IS fighters in eastern Iraq’s Diyala province.
But he suggested there is a tacit understanding between mainly Shia Iran and the United States to tackle a common threat.
“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,” Kerry told a press conference after the meeting.
Iran refused to confirm or deny carrying out any such strikes.
The coalition issued a statement saying that the militant group’s “advance across Syria and into Iraq is being halted” and that Iraqi and Kurdish forces were reclaiming territory.
They also agreed to develop a “multifaceted” strategy to combat IS, including stopping the flow of foreign fighters, cutting finance and “delegitimisation” of its powerful, social media-driven brand.
In Paris, French President Francois Hollande said his country was also ready “to step up actions” against IS militants in Iraq, in a joint statement with visiting Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi.
The United States launched its first strikes against IS in Iraq in August. In late September the strikes were extended to IS targets in Syria, involving the United States as well as a number of allies.
Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Jordan and Bahrain are taking part in the air strikes in Syria. Australia, Belgium, Britain, Canada, Denmark, France and the Netherlands are participating in Iraq.