BAGHDAD — U.S. warplanes shot down an Iranian drone aircraft over Iraq last month, the U.S. military announced Monday.
The unmanned aircraft, identified as an Ababil 3, was followed for over an hour on Feb. 25 before military commanders ordered jets to fire on it about 60 miles northeast of Baghdad, the military said in a statement.
"This was not an accident on the part of the Iranians," the military said. "The UAV [unmanned aerial vehicle] was in Iraqi airspace for nearly one hour and 10 minutes and well inside Iraqi territory before it was engaged."
Iraqi officials confirmed the incident but were muted in their reaction. With ties to both Iran and the United States, the government finds itself constantly balancing its interests between the two, which broke off diplomatic relations with each other three decades ago after Iran's Islamic Revolution.
The U.S. military has regularly accused Iran of fomenting instability in Iraq by arming and training Shiite Muslim militia groups. Iran has long denied the charges and blamed the U.S. military presence for Iraq's chronic violence. Amid tensions over Iran's nuclear program, President Obama has expressed a willingness to engage in dialogue with Iran, and his administration has invited Tehran to participate in a conference this month on Afghanistan, Iran's eastern neighbor.
Iran has been developing unmanned aviation technologies, displaying drone aircraft during military parades and incorporating them into war games along its eastern and western borders in recent years.
In December, Iran said it had developed a new generation of "spy drones" that provide real-time surveillance over enemy terrain. And last month an Iranian air force officer told media Iran had created drones with a range of 1,200 miles.
Times staff writer Borzou Daragahi in Beirut contributed to this report.