US air strike supports Iraqi troops under attack

The US has carried out its first air strike against Islamic State (IS) militants under a new strategy to defeat the group.

The US military said Monday’s strike had destroyed an IS fighting position south-west of Baghdad that had been firing on Iraqi forces.

It came five days after US President Barack Obama outlined his plan to “degrade and ultimately destroy” IS.

The US has also been building a broad coalition to fight the jihadist group.

IS, also known as Isil or Isis, has announced the creation of a caliphate, or Islamic state, in the large parts of Syria and Iraq it controls.

“The air strike south-west of Baghdad was the first taken as part of our expanded efforts beyond protecting our own people and humanitarian missions to hit Isil targets as Iraqi forces go on offence, as outlined in the president’s speech last Wednesday,” US Central Command said.

It did not specify the exact location but Iraqi security spokesman Lt Gen Qassem Atta told AFP news agency it was “an important strike” in Sadr al-Yusufiya, 25km (15 miles) from the capital.

The US also said an IS position near the north-western town of Sinjar had been targeted on Sunday, destroying six IS vehicles.

US fighter planes have conducted more than 160 airstrikes across Iraq since August.

Previous US air strikes in Iraq have been carried out to protect US interests and personnel, help Iraqi refugees and secure infrastructure.

In a speech last week, President Obama unveiled a four-point plan to defeat IS using air strikes, material and technical support for ground troops, counter-terrorism activities and humanitarian help.

In another development, Iraq criticised the decision not to invite Iran to Monday’s Paris summit on the IS threat.

Thirty countries pledged to join a US-led coalition against IS at the talks.

Iraqi Foreign Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari said the decision not to include Iran was “regrettable”.

“We believe that all world countries are concerned about the danger of terrorism,” he said.

“Iran is our neighbour, it assisted us and it should have been present, but we are not the party responsible for inviting parties,” he added.

He said he did not expect foreign ground troops to become involved in either Iraq or Syria.

Iran and Syria both have borders with Iraq, but relations between them and the US are fraught.

Last week, US Secretary of State John Kerry ruled out co-operation with Iran, citing its “engagement in Syria and elsewhere”.

But Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said on Monday that the US had requested Iran’s co-operation via the US ambassador to Iraq.

“I said no, because they have dirty hands,” he said. He added the US was seeking a “pretext to do in Iraq and Syria what it already does in Pakistan – bomb anywhere without authorisation”.

Syria also did not take part in the Paris gathering.

France said on Monday it had begun surveillance flights over Iraq. Britain revealed in August that its aircraft had been gathering intelligence over Iraq.

The CIA estimates IS has between 20,000 and 31,000 fighters in Iraq and Syria.