SHAFAQNA (International Shia News Association) – BAGHDAD — France conducted its first airstrike Friday against Islamic State targets in Iraq, the French president said, joining the United States as part of an emerging international military coalition against the militants.
Rafale fighter jets destroyed an Islamic State supply depot in northeastern Iraq, President Francois Hollande said in a statement. He said other French operations would follow in “coming days.”
President Obama has sought to rally a broad international alliance to counter the extremist group, which has claimed large amounts of territory in Iraq and Syria. The U.S.-led efforts have received wide-ranging pledges of support, but France is the first to join the United States in conducting airstrikes.
The presence of France in the air attacks has added political significance. France strongly opposed the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 and remained generally on the sidelines in the following years when other countries sent troops to back up American forces as Iraq descended into chaos.
The French parliament will be informed next week about the conditions of the commitment of French forces alongside Iraqi government forces and Kurdish fighters in northern Iraq, Hollande’s statement added.
The strikes came after a night of violence in the Iraqi capital. The Islamic State again demonstrated its capability to target mostly Shiite neighborhoods in Baghdad.
Suicide bombers and mortar fire struck the Shiite district of Kadhimiyah overnight, officials said. Later, at least 17 people were killed in three explosions in other Shiite areas of the capital, according to an Associated Press count.
The radical Sunni Islamic State militants consider Shiite Muslims to be heretics. Shiite militias, with close ties to Shiite power Iran, also have joined battles against the Islamic State in northern Iraq.
Iran, meanwhile, is caught in a complicated position: Opposing the Islamic State, but rejecting a role in a U.S.-led international force lining up against the militants.
The most important Shiite religious figure in Iraq, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, issued a message Friday warning that outside military help against the Islamic State cannot spill over to greater influence over Iraq’s political affairs, which are dominated by Shiites. Earlier this week, Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, questioned whether Western powers seek to strengthen their grip in the region as part of the Islamic State fight.
“Even if Iraq is in need of help from its brothers and friends in fighting black terrorism, maintaining the sovereignty and independence of its decisions is of the highest importance,” said a statement by the Iranian-born Sistani. The statement was read by Sistani’s spokesman, Abdul Mehdi Karbalai, said during a sermon in the Iraqi city of Karbala.
The United States has conducted at least 176 strikes since Aug. 8, the U.S. Central Command said Thursday. The strikes expanded to sites closer to Baghdad this week in line with Obama’s pledge to strike the militants wherever they are based.
“The French were our very first ally, and they are there again for us,” Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters during a visit to France on Friday, the AP reported. “It just reminds me why these relationships really matter.”