WASHINGTON — The U.S. military has carried out airstrikes on artillery used by Islamic State militants near the Kurdish capital of Irbil, the Pentagon said on Friday.
Pentagon spokesman Rear Adm. John Kirby said in a statement Friday morning that two F/A-18 aircraft dropped 500-pound laser-guided bombs on a mobile artillery piece near Irbil. The artillery had been used against Kurdish forces defending Irbil, near U.S. personnel, he said.
Kirby said the targeted strikes took place at 6:45 a.m. Eastern time.
“The decision to strike was made by the U.S. Central Command commander under authorization granted him by the commander in chief,” he said. “As the president made clear, the United States military will continue to take direct action against ISIL when they threaten our personnel and facilities.”
The U.S. military also has conducted aid drops to Iraqis in need, Kirby said.
Today’s other news from Iraq:
- Iraq’s top cleric blamed politicians for the country’s escalating crisis and called on them stop arguing and choose a prime minister so that a united government can confront the danger posed by militants from the Islamic State.
Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani said in a Friday sermon in the holy city of Kerbala that selfish politicians who cling to their positions are making a “grave mistake,” according to the Alakhbar news website.
“All Iraqis should unify ranks and intensify efforts in the face of this big danger that threatens their present and future,” Sistani said.
“All political parties should know that conflicts and differences among each other_which in many times have no justification but self interest or sectarian or national interests_have caused the weakening of everybody and opened the door for the terrorists,” he said.
- International oil companies, who maintain a huge presence in Irbil, have put their employees on the highest alert as the prepare evacuation plans from the capital.
Exxon and Chevron both had restricted their employees’ movements over the past few days, with most confined to their homes under heavy security.
Now the companies are bringing planes into Irbil’s international airport to evacuate employees should conditions deteriorate. Industry sources said U.S. airstrikes in or around Irbil would be a likely trigger.
- On Friday morning the British Embassy had warned its citizens to leave Irbil and Dohuk, cities close to the major fighting, while the US Embassy had yet to make an official announcement.
- Kurdish security officials speaking on the condition of anonymity said that Thursday night saw the execution of a security plan in which Arab Sunnis_of which there are tens of thousands as refugees in the Kurdisn areas_that have been under observation were being arrested in a series of raids throughput the area. Plainclothes Kurdish security forces could be seen in unmarked cars throughout may areas of the capital, as, according to the officials, steps were taken to prevent ‘sleeper cell’ attacks inside the city.
“We have real concerns about Daash posing as refugees,” said one security official, using the derogatory Arabic acronym for the Islamic State. “We have been watching closely for them and caught many trying to enter our territory.”
On Thursday at the main checkpoint between IS held Mosul and Irbil, at least three refugees were seen being bundled into the trunks of cars by peshemrga forces, apparently, in one case, because of his Mosul accents and a Koran in his car.
Mitchell Prothero contributed to this article from Irbil, Iraq.