Iraqi defence minister escapes assassination attempt

Iraqi defence minister escapes assassination attempt
Iraq's defence minister has escaped a sniper attack unharmed while traveling north of Baghdad officials said on Monday, as air force deploys F-16 jets for first time to bomb IS.
3 min read
07 September, 2015
Khaled al-Obeidi (C) was unharmed after his convoy came under fire on Monday [Getty]

Iraqi Defence Minister Khaled al-Obeidi was unharmed after his convoy came under sniper fire near the town of Baiji, 190 kilometres (120 miles) north of Baghdad, during a field visit, a ministry spokesman said on Monday.  

"The minister is well and safe," joint operations spokesman Brigadier General Yahya Rasool told Reuters. 

Baiji and its oil refinery, Iraq's largest, have been a battlefront for more than a year, since its seizure by Islamic State militants in June 2014 as they swept through most of northern and western Iraq.     

F-16 deployed  

On Sunday, the commander of the air force said Iraq has deployed F-16 warplanes acquired from the US against Islamic State group (IS) for the first time.

"Fifteen air strikes were carried out in the past four days," Staff Lieutenant General Anwar Hama Amin told AFP following a news conference in Baghdad.

"Smart weapons" were used in the strikes, Amin said, without specifying the type.

Defence Minister Khaled al-Obaidi told the news conference that the strikes had achieved "important results" and that the jets will have "an impact on the conduct of operations in the future."

Amin told the news conference that the F-16 strikes had taken place in Salaheddin and Kirkuk provinces, north of Baghdad.

The F-16s carried out 15 air strikes in the past four days
- Staff Lieutenant General Anwar Hama Amin

The first four Iraqi F-16s arrived from the United States in mid-July, out of a total of 36 Washington has agreed to sell to Baghdad.

The purchase had been a source of tension, with Baghdad repeatedly complaining that they have not been delivered quickly enough.

Insecurity in Iraq, where IS seized significant territory in June 2014, had delayed the delivery of the jets, with the first batch being sent to Arizona, where Iraqi pilots have been training.

An Iraqi pilot was killed when his F-16 crashed during training in Arizona earlier this year.

F-16 jets are much more sophisticated than other aircraft in Baghdad's arsenal and will boost Iraq's capacity for air strikes, which are currently carried out by ageing Sukhoi Su-25 jets, Cessna Caravan turboprop aircraft and various helicopters.

But with foreign aircraft from the international anti-IS coalition also carrying out strikes against the jihadists on a daily basis, the delivery is not seen as a game changer in the war against the militants.

In Washington, Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook said the US "commend[s] the Iraqi Air Force for its successful use of this cutting-edge aircraft ‎in the international campaign to degrade and ultimately defeat" the IS.

"The United States is committed to building a strategic partnership with Iraq and the Iraqi people and we will continue to work with the government of Iraq on the delivery of the remaining aircraft as they become available within the framework of the production schedule," Cook said.