Maliki: Assad’s air force carried out attacks in Iraq
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry says other nations should stay out of Iraq
Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki acknowledged on Thursday that the Syrian air force carried out air strikes against militants along the Iraq-Syria border this week.
Maliki told the BBC that he "welcomed" any such strike against militants led by ISIS, but noted Baghdad did not request the aerial raids which took place on Tuesday.
The strikes came after ISIS-led insurgents took control of the al-Qaim border town on the Iraqi side of the frontier, providing them a strategic route into conflict-hit Syria, where the jihadist group is also active.
On Wednesday, Al-Qaeda's Syrian franchise, al-Nusra Front, also made a local pledge of allegiance to ISIS, further bolstering the group's control of the border area.
Sunni militants have overrun vast swathes of five provinces north and west of Baghdad in an offensive that has alarmed the international community, left more than 1,000 people dead and displaced hundreds of thousands.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry had warned against the threat and said other nations should stay out.
“We’ve made it clear to everyone in the region that we don’t need anything to take place that might exacerbate the sectarian divisions that are already at a heightened level of tension,” Kerry said,
Meanwhile, two U.S. officials said Iran has been flying surveillance drones in Iraq, controlling them from an airfield in Baghdad, Associated Press reported. The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to discuss the issue publicly, said they believe the drones are surveillance aircraft only, but they could not rule out that they may be armed.
A top Iraqi intelligence official said Iran was secretly supplying the Iraqi security forces with weapons, including rockets, heavy machine guns and multiple rocket launchers. “Iraq is in a grave crisis and the sword is on its neck, so is it even conceivable that we turn down the hand outstretched to us?” said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the subject.
The intelligence-gathering and arms supplies come on the heels of a visit to Baghdad this month by one of Iran’s most powerful generals, Qassem Soleimani, commander of the Revolutionary Guard’s Quds Force, to help bolster the defenses of the Iraqi military and the Shiite militias that he has armed and trained.
On the diplomatic front, British Foreign Secretary William Hague arrived in Baghdad to urge Iraqi politicians to unite against the "existential threat" from the Sunni insurgents.
Hague said the country must form an inclusive government across sectarian lines to unite Iraqis against ISIS.
According to a statement from his office Thursday, Hague said the militant group that has seized swathes of Iraq was a "mortal threat" to the country and threatened others in the region.
Britain has ruled out military intervention, but Hague said it would provide "diplomatic, counter-terrorism and humanitarian support."