US believes Iran launched air raids on Islamic State in Iraq

WASHINGTON - The United States has indications that Iran has carried out air strikes on Islamic State targets in Iraq in recent days, US officials said on Wednesday.

A senior Iranian official denied that Iran had launched air strikes against Islamic State in Iraq.

US officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the United States had indications that Iran had carried out air raids using F-4 Phantoms in the last several days.

Pentagon spokesman Rear Admiral John Kirby told a news briefing on Tuesday the United States was not coordinating its military activities with Iran and added that it was up to the Iraqis to manage Iraqi air space.

"It's the Iraqi air space and (Iraq's) to deconflict. We are not coordinating with nor are we deconflicting with Iranian military," Kirby said. Deconflict in military parlance means to avoid overlap.

The prospect of US and Iranian militaries separately carrying out air strikes in the same country raises questions about the degree of advanced coordination that might be needed, even indirectly, to avoid a mishap.

A senior Iranian official said no raids had been carried out and Tehran had no intention of cooperating with Washington.

"Iran has never been involved in any air strikes against Daesh (Islamic State) targets in Iraq. Any cooperation in such strikes with America is also out of question for Iran," the senior official said on condition of anonymity.

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, in Brussels for a meeting of the US-led coalition against Islamic State, said he had no information about any air strikes.

While Shi'ite Iran and the United States have been at odds for decades, they have a common enemy in Islamic State, the hardline Sunni militant group that has taken over large areas of Iraq and Syria.

Iran backs the Iraqi Shi'ite militias which are battling Islamic State and has sent senior commanders to help advise the Iraqi army and militia operations since the radical Sunni group seized large parts of northern Iraq in the summer. Iraqi officials say there are no Iranian troops on its soil.

US Secretary of State John Kerry said the US-led coalition has inflicted serious damage on Islamic State, carrying out around 1,000 air strikes so far in Iraq and Syria, but the fight against the militants could last years.