Iraq's prime minister says he welcomes raid on Sunni militants as Iran and US intensify their presence in the country
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The Iraqi prime minister,Nouri al-Maliki, on Thursday followed US officials in confirming that Syrian warplanes had bombed Sunni militant positions in Iraq.
The cross-border raids have deepened fears that the insurgency now spanning Syria and Iraq could become an even wider regional conflict. Maliki told the BBC he had not requested the air strikes but welcomed them.
The Syrian warplanes struck near the border crossing in the town of Qaim on Tuesday, US military officials told the Associated Press, hitting the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (Isis), which seeks to carve out a purist Islamic enclave across the Syria-Iraq border.
The White House spokesman Joshua Earnest said Washington had "no reason to dispute" the reports. Details are, however, sketchy. For its part, Syria's state news agency denied that Damascus had carried out the attacks [Liars!]. It said its source "refuted allegations made by malicious media outlets who claimed that the Syrian air force shelled areas within the borders of Iraq".
Syrian opposition activists have claimed that the al-Qaim strikes missed Isis's main bases and killed 30 civilians. Four of Iraq's other neighbours – Jordan, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Turkey – were reportedly all bolstering flights just inside their airspace to monitor the situation, an Iraqi official told AP.
The raid comes asIran and the US are intensifying their presence in Iraq. 300 US military advisers arrived in Baghdad this week and surveillance drones are flying over northern Iraq. US officials said Iran was also flying drones in the country, controlling them from an airfield in Baghdad. The officials said they believed the drones were surveillance aircraft only, but could not rule out that they may be armed.
A senior 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.
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 bolster the defences of the Iraqi military and the Shia militias that he has armed and trained.
The involvement of Syria and Iran in Iraq suggests a growing cooperation among the three Shia-led governments in response to the raging Sunni insurgency.
The US secretary of state, John Kerry, on Wednesday warned of the dangers of the Isis insurgency spreading into a larger conflict. "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," he told a meeting of Nato foreign ministers in Brussels. "It's already important that nothing take place that contributes to the extremism or could act as a flash point with respect to the sectarian divide."