U.S. forces shot down an Iranian drone aircraft that ventured inside Iraq several weeks ago, the U.S. military and a senior Iraqi military official said on Monday, an incident that could highlight deep U.S.-Iranian tensions.
"An unmanned Iranian plane crossed the border and it was discovered by multi-national forces' radar. They intercepted it and brought it down ... an American plane brought it down," Major-General Abdul Aziz Mohammed Jassim, head of military operations at the Iraqi Defense Ministry, told Reuters.
"According to the report received by multinational forces, this drone entered Iraq mistakenly at a point 100 kilometers (60 miles) from Baghdad. It crossed 10 kilometers (6 miles) into Iraq. It's most likely that its entrance (into Iraq) was a mistake," Jassim said.
A U.S. military spokesman confirmed the incident, saying it happened on Feb. 25 but describing it as "not an accident."
"The UAV had been tracked by coalition air forces for nearly 1 hour and 10 minutes before it was engaged and shot down well inside Iraqi airspace," the spokesman said.
The unmanned plane was identified as an "Ababil 3" model and had been tracked for more than an hour, the military said.
Allegations against Iran
The U.S. military has accused Iran of arming militants and meddling in neighboring Iraq, where tens of thousands have died in sectarian violence since the U.S.-led invasion to oust Saddam Hussein in 2003.
Relations between the government of Iraq's Shiite Muslim Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki and Iran, a fellow majority Shiite nation, are mostly friendly.
The two countries fought a bloody eight-year war in the 1980s which killed an estimated 1 million people, but ties have warmed since Saddam, a Sunni Arab, was removed from power.
In recent months, as violence has dropped sharply in Iraq, U.S. officials have spoken less forcefully about Iran's alleged role in Iraq.
In a shift from the Bush administration, President Barack Obama has said he would be open to engaging with Iran on a range of issues, from nuclear ambitions to how Iran might assist in Afghanistan.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has said he also is open to talks with Washington, but demands fundamental changes to U.S. policy in the Middle East.
Underlying U.S.-Iranian tensions is Iran's nuclear program, which Washington believes is aimed at building atomic weapons. Iran insists it seeks only power generation.
The United States has about 140,000 troops in Iraq, but combat operations will cease by the end of August 2010 under Obama's withdrawal plan, and all U.S. forces are due to leave the country by the end of 2011.