President Francois Hollande said Rafale jets hit "a logistics
depot of the terrorists" near the city of Mosul, which has been held
by Islamic State for more than three months. It promised more
operations in coming days.
The French military action, which follows U.S. air strikes in
northern Iraq and near the capital Baghdad, appeared to win
qualified endorsement from Iraq's top Shi'ite leader Grand Ayatollah
In a Friday sermon, delivered by one of his aides, the elderly
cleric acknowledged Iraq needed foreign help but said Iraq must not
become subservient to outside powers.
"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,"
Sistani's spokesman Sheikh Abdul Mehdi Karbala'i said.
Sistani speaks for millions of Iraq's majority Shi'ites and has a
Islamic State fighters, who have controlled much of Syria's eastern
oil and agricultural provinces for more than a year, swept through
mainly Sunni Muslim regions of north Iraq in mid-June, seizing
cities including Mosul and Tikrit and halting only a few dozen miles
(km) north of the capital Baghdad.
Iraq's army and Shi'ite militia forces have battled the Islamic
State and other Sunni militants, but failed to make significant
Car bombs, some of them claimed by Islamic State, have been a near
daily occurrence in the capital. On Friday, two car bombs killed
nine people in Baghdad and a bomb in the majority Kurdish city of
Kirkuk in the north killed eight people, security sources said.
Washington launched air strikes for the first time in August to halt
an IS advance on the Kurdish autonomous capital Arbil. Since then it
has tried to build an international coalition to destroy the radical
Sunni Muslim group, saying more than 40 countries, including Arab
nations, have offered assistance.
The air strikes have helped Kurds claw back lost territory. This
week they retook ground in the northern province of Nineveh
including villages in the Khazer area and several others further
west around the town of Zummar, which remains under IS control.
Elsewhere in Nineveh, Islamic State offered another sign of its
growing authority over Iraqis, creating a police force "to implement
the orders of the religious judiciary" , according to a well-known
militant Islamist website.
French officials said Friday's mission involved two Rafale fighter
jets, a supply plane and a Navy reconnaissance plane. Four air
strikes were carried out in the space of half an hour, destroying a
storage facility containing vehicles, arms and fuel, a spokesman for
Defense Minister Jean-Yves LeDrian said.
Hollande has said French military action would be limited to Iraq
and no ground troops would be sent.
[to top of second column]
In neighboring Syria, Western powers are more reluctant to launch
military strikes which could be seen to bolster President Bashar
al-Assad after they repeatedly called for his departure over his
military response to popular protests in 2011.
But U.S. President Barack Obama said last week he had authorized air
strikes in Syria too and would not hesitate to take action, although
he also stressed plans to arm "moderate" Syrian rebel fighters to
help them take on Islamic State.
Exploiting the security vacuum in the north of the country, Islamic
State fighters have expanded their reach, attacking mainly Kurdish
villages near the border with Turkey over the last two days, driving
out a wave of refugees.
Several thousand Syrian Kurds began crossing into Turkey on Friday,
fleeing IS fighters who are besieging the mainly Kurdish town of Ayn
al-Arab, known as Kobani in Kurdish.
Turkey is already sheltering more than 1.3 million Syrian refugees
and fears hundreds of thousands more, waiting in the mountains on
the Syrian side of the 900-km (560-mile) border, could seek to cross
as fighting escalates.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which tracks developments
in the civil war, said on Friday IS had seized three more villages
near Kobani, bringing to 24 the number it has taken.
The attack on Kobani prompted a Kurdish militant call to the youth
of Turkey's mainly Kurdish southeast to join the fight against IS
and came days after the U.S. military said the help of Syrian Kurds
would be needed against the Islamist militants.
The president of Iraq's Kurdistan region also called for
international action. "I call on the international community to use
every means as soon as possible to protect Kobani," President Masoud
(Addition reporting by Isabel Coles in Arbil and Raheem Salman in
Baghdad; Writing by Dominic Evans; Editing by Janet Lawrence)
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