France conducts air strikes in north Iraq

President Obama says Paris is a ‘solid partner in fight against terrorism’

France yesterday became the second western country to conduct air strikes against Islamic State targets in northern Iraq.

“This morning, at 9.40am, our Rafale aircraft carried out a first attack against a logistics centre of the terrorist organisation Daesh [IS]in the northeast of Iraq,” a statement from the Élysée Palace said. “The target was hit and entirely destroyed. Other operations will be carried out in the days to come.”

A spokesman for the defence ministry said four aircraft had participated in four strikes over half an hour, destroying a storage facility containing vehicles, arms and fuel near Tall Mouss in the Zoumar region of northern Iraq. The French aircraft are based at Al-Dhafra, near Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates.

After president François Hollande announced the planned air strikes, president Barack Obama said France was a "solid partner" in the "fight against terrorism".


Iraqi endorsement

Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the leading cleric to Iraq’s Shia Muslim majority, appeared to endorse the air strikes. The Ayatollah’s spokesman said, “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.”

France too is careful to preserve its sovereignty and independence. In a demand reminiscent of Gen Charles de Gaulle, Paris made the freedom to chose its own targets a pre-condition of participation in the coalition against IS. American air strikes, which began on August 8th, have helped Kurdish fighters to regain some territory in northern Iraq, including villages in the Khazer area and several near the town of Zummar.

But IS has struck back, claiming responsibility for car bombs that killed nine people in Baghdad and eight others in the Kurdish city of Kirkuk yesterday.

New police force

IS has also announced the creation of a police force “to implement the orders of the religious judiciary”.

In northern Syria, where there have been no western air strikes yet, thousands of Kurds are fleeing into Turkey to escape IS's advance on the Kurdish town of Ayn al-Arab, known as Kobani in Kurdish.

The Iraqi Kurdish leader Masoud Barzani yesterday called for international intervention to protect Kobani.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said IS seized three more villages near Kobani, in addition to 21 already held. There are already more than 1.3 million Syrian refugees in Turkey.

Though Mr Hollande’s domestic policies are widely criticised, he is beginning to receive praise for his daring in foreign policy. Iraq is the third military intervention he has ordered, after Mali and the Central African Republic.

If Mr Obama had listened to Mr Hollande and bombed Syria a year ago, after president Bashar al-Assad used chemical weapons, radio commentator Bernard Guetta said, “we would not have had to put together this fragile international coalition against IS and flip-flop by arming Syrian democrats on the ground, so late so they can confront the monster that American blindness allowed to grow.”

Lara Marlowe

Lara Marlowe

Lara Marlowe is Paris Correspondent of The Irish Times