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Iran Appears to Be Launching Airstrikes Against ISIS in Iraq: Pentagon

Iran's president Hassan Rouhani speaks to NBC's Ann Curry in an exclusive interview 52:36

LONDON — Warplanes from Iran launched airstrikes against ISIS fighters outside Baghdad last week, senior U.S. military officials told NBC News on Wednesday.

Iranian F-4 Phantom jets flew the missions, the officials said. They could not provide information about targets or damage. The F-4s are American-made, Vietnam-era aircraft sold to Iran decades ago.

The officials stressed that the strikes were in an area far from where the United States and its coalition partners have been targeting ISIS. There was never a danger that the U.S. and Iranian warplanes would come into contact, a senior Defense Department official said.

Iran is not a member of the coalition that Secretary of State John Kerry cobbled together to fight ISIS, and Washington and Tehran have ruled out working together to defeat the militants. Iran's president told NBC News that the U.S.-led coalition was "ridiculous."

Kerry said Wednesday that the United States has not changed its policy against working with the Iranian military. If Iran is taking on ISIS with limited strikes, “the net effect is positive, but that’s not something that we’re coordinating,” he said.

An Iranian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, Marziyeh Afkham, would not directly address airstrikes, but said, "There is no change in Iranian policy about helping the Iraqi government against ISIS or consulting and advising the Iraqi government against terrorists."

A Pentagon spokesman, Rear Adm. John Kirby, said Tuesday that U.S. officials had "no indication that the reports are not true."

Iran's president Hassan Rouhani speaks to NBC's Ann Curry in an exclusive interview 52:36

Still, photos showing Iranian fighters and even a powerful general — Ghasem Soleimani — on Iraqi territory have underscored the regional Shiite powerhouse's presence in the fight against Sunni ISIS militants.

While the airstrikes appear to be the first of their kind, they signal Iran's continued interest in taking down the militants at their doorstep and one more instance in which the U.S. and Tehran find themselves fighting for the same side.

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— Cassandra Vinograd and Jim Miklaszewski