US-Led Military Force Fighting ISIS Agrees to Halt All Flights over Iraq

A U.S. Navy F/A-18E Super Hornet flies over Iraq in support of Operation Inherent Resolve, June 15, 2018. (U.S. Air Force/Staff Sgt. Corey Hook)
A U.S. Navy F/A-18E Super Hornet flies over Iraq in support of Operation Inherent Resolve, June 15, 2018. (U.S. Air Force/Staff Sgt. Corey Hook)

Military leaders running the U.S.-led fight against the Islamic State group in Iraq have agreed to stop flying planes, helicopters and drones there after the prime minister called for all air traffic in the country to cease.

Senior leaders from Combined Joint Task Force-Operation Inherent Resolve met with the Iraqi defense minister this week to discuss a recent call from Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi to restrict all Iraqi airspace. Abdul-Mahdi's request came after an unexplained blast at Camp Al-Saqr, or Camp Falcon, just outside Baghdad killed a civilian and injured more than a dozen others.

The U.S. has agreed to comply with Abdul-Mahdi's request, officials said Friday, as "guests within Iraq's sovereign borders."

"The U.S.-led coalition immediately complied with all directions received from our Iraqi partners as they implemented the Prime Minister's order," a statement from the task force read.

Abdul-Mahdi's call to restrict airspace applies to "Iraqi and non-Iraqi parties," The Associated Press reported Friday. All were urged to abide by the directive or risk being considered "an enemy flight."

Unauthorized flight activity, the prime minister warned, will be "dealt with from our air defenses immediately."

Officials did not say how long they agreed to keep aircraft out of the skies.

U.S. forces have been flying anti-ISIS missions in Iraq since the effort to defeat the militants there and in Syria kicked off in 2014. The task force has supported nearly 15,000 coordinated strikes with the Iraqi government, according to coalition data.

The blast at Camp Al-Saqr remains under investigation, expected to be completed in a week. But the incident has some worried that Israel struck the compound, as it has done against Iranian bases in neighboring Syria, the AP reported.

A group of Iranian-backed militias called the Popular Mobilization Forces, which has fought ISIS terrorists alongside the Iraqis, had a weapons depot on the base where the explosion occurred. One official with the militia group told the AP there is evidence of a drone attack causing this recent blast.

Others have blamed poor storage in a city where temperatures soar toward 120 degrees.

The blast shook the Iraqi capital and sent explosives and mortar shells shooting into the sky, damaging nearby homes and terrifying residents who ran into the streets with their cellphones, the AP reported. Black smoke could be seen over the city for hours following the deadly explosion.

-- Gina Harkins can be reached at gina.harkins@military.com. Follow her on Twitter @ginaaharkins.

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