Did strikes on ISIS hit leader?
BAGHDAD — He’s enemy No. 1 in the fight against ISIS. But after waves of airstrikes by both Iraq and U.S.-led coalition forces, questions abound over whether the terror group’s leader was hit.
Iraq’s Ministry of Interior said the Iraqi air force wounded ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and killed a number of his senior leaders in an airstrike Saturday on the Iraqi town of Al-Qaem.
But it’s unusual for the Ministry of Interior to make a claim of this magnitude involving a defense operation.
Iraq’s Ministry of Defense hasn’t made any public statements on the alleged hit. Neither has the Iraqi prime minister’s office.
In the United States, a Pentagon spokesman confirmed U.S.-led coalition airstrikes over the weekend targeted “what was assessed to be a gathering of ISIL leaders” near Mosul, about 400 kilometers (250 miles) away from Al-Qaem.
But Col. Patrick Ryan said he could not confirm reports that al-Baghdadi was in the convoy.
Iran’s claim on Baghdad
Despite months of ISIS’ advances in Iraq, the militant group has yet to rain its terror on Baghdad. And according to an Iranian military official, the world can thank Iran for that.
“The (ISIS) terrorists sought to surround Baghdad, but they failed in reaching their ominous goals thanks to Iran’s supports,” Brig. Gen. Esmayeel Qa’ani said Sunday, according to Iran’s FARS news agency.
Qa’ani is lieutenant commander of the Quds Force, an elite unit of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps.
According to FARS, senior military officials in Baghdad said the Quds Force helped free the Iraqi town of Jurf al-Sakher from ISIS control.
A common enemy
ISIS is one of few issues that Iran and the United States agree on; both countries want to quash the terror group that has been taking over large swaths of Iraq and Syria.
But with no diplomatic relations with Iran and lingering concerns over its nuclear program, the United States has had to walk a tightrope over Iran’s involvement.
This was reflected in comments Obama made to CBS’ “Face the Nation.”
“There is some deconflicting, in the sense that since they have some troops or militias they control in and around Baghdad … we let them know, ‘Don’t mess with us. We’re not here to mess with you. We’re focused on our common enemy,'” Obama said.
More U.S. troops
The decision to increase U.S. troop deployments to Iraq isn’t a sign the U.S. strategy against ISIS is failing, but rather a signal the campaign is entering a new phase, Obama said.
The additional 1,500 troops are being sent to help train Iraqi army soldiers and militia fighters to battle ISIS on the ground after weeks of U.S. and allied airstrikes.
“The airstrikes have been very effective in degrading ISIL’s capabilities and slowing the advance that they were making,” Obama said. “Now what we need is ground troops, Iraqi ground troops, that can start pushing them back.” Some U.S. officials refer to ISIS as ISIL.
Obama reiterated that U.S. forces will not go into combat. But he said the United States will provide local troops with “close air support” once they are ready to go on the offensive against ISIS.