France says its fighter jets have successfully carried out the country’s first airstrikes against Islamic State insurgents inside Iraq.
The office of French President Francois Hollande said Rafale jets launched a strike against a militant logistics depot in northeastern Iraq, adding that it was destroyed completely.
Iraqi military officials said the airstrikes targeted positions near the town of Zumar.
France said there would be more operations in the coming days.
On Thursday, Hollande said his country was ready to conduct airstrikes requested by Iraq once reconnaissance flights had identified targets. He has said the military operation would be limited to Iraq and would not include any ground troops.
U.S. President Barack Obama praised the French announcement, saying that “France is a strong partner in our efforts against terrorism.”
Obama also said Thursday that “more than 40 countries, including Arab nations,” have agreed to join the coalition against the Islamic State militants who have taken over parts of Syria and Iraq.
The United States already has launched more than 170 airstrikes against IS targets in Iraq. The U.S. says it is ready to carry out strikes against militant targets in Syria if necessary.
Washington launched air strikes for the first time in August to halt an IS advance on the Kurdish autonomous capital Arbil.
The U.S. Senate voted 78 to 22 on Thursday, to authorize equipping and training moderate Syrian rebels to battle Islamic State militants. The Republican-controlled House of Representatives had approved the legislation Wednesday. President Obama said the congressional approval shows the world that Americans are united in combating the militant group.
Iraqi cleric gives qualified endorsement
The French military action appeared to win qualified endorsement from Iraq’s top Shi’ite leader Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani.
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 worldwide following.
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 territorial gains.
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.
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.
Some material for this report provided by Reuters.