President Barack Obama said on Saturday the United States and allies will “defeat” Islamic State militants in Iraq although he cautioned that no American ground troops would return to the country.
In an interview with NBC News’ Meet the Press that was aired on Sunday, the president promised to outline his strategy for defeating the Iraqi militant group in a speech on Wednesday, a day after consulting with congressional leaders.
Almost three years after withdrawing all American troops from Iraq, President Barack Obama on Thursday ordered targeted airstrikes against militants in the north of the country and said in an interview the United States would not allow Islamists to create a caliphate in the region.
According to military officials, unmanned American drone aircraft struck insurgent positions near Irbil, the capital of Iraq’s Kurdistan Regional Government. Four F/A-18 fighter jets also reportedly attacked a convey of Islamist fighters.
The White House press secretary insisted that the United States would not resume a “combat role” in Iraq but hinted that a wider mission might be possible if the Iraqis managed to form an inclusive government.
In an interview with The New York Times that was published late on Friday, President Obama similarly said the Islamist uprising could only be stopped “if we know that we have got partners on the ground who are capable of filling the void.”
The jihadist group that calls itself the “Islamic State” controls an arc of territory from Aleppo in Syria to near the western edge of Iraq’s capital, Baghdad, eradicating the border between the two countries that was drawn by European imperialists a century ago. The group’s leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, has proclaimed himself to be the “caliph” — the historic title of the successors of the Prophet Muhammad who ruled the entire Muslim world.
Less radical Sunni militias and tribes have either joined the insurgency or refused to stand in its way, seeing the Islamist offensive as an opportunity to unseat Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki — a Shia Muslim who has consistently marginalized Iraq’s other sects since Western troops pulled out of the country at the end of 2011 after almost a decade of occupation.
Obama recognized that the Islamic State is “filling a vacuum,” adding, “the question for us has to be not simply how we counteract them militarily but how are we going to speak to a Sunni majority in that area?”
Defying pressure from the United States to reach out to Iraq’s other sects, Maliki, who was most recently reelected in April, initially led a crackdown of police officers and politicians he considered “traitors” following the Islamic State’s offensive in the country. His political party also declared a boycott of Iraq’s largest Sunni bloc.
The ease with which the insurgents were able to conquer much of Iraq’s northwest — massacring “infidel” Shia Muslims and religious minorities in their way — appears to have given Maliki pause. He promised air support for a Kurdish counteroffensive, so far to no avail. The Kurds were routed by fighters from the Islamic State who are now only half an hour’s drive from Irbil.
The group’s brutality prompted American intervention, Obama said in a televised address Thursday night. Referring to the Yazidis, an ancient Iraqi sect who are considered “devil worshippers” by the Islamic State’s fanatics, he said, “when many thousands of innocent civilians are faced with the danger of being wiped out, and we have the capacity to do something about it, we will take action.”
Although in his interview with The New York Times, the president cautioned, “I don’t want to be in the business of being the Iraqi air force.”
Kurdish militia attacked Islamist fighters southwest of their regional capital, Irbil, in the north of Iraq of Wednesday, backed, for the first time, by central government forces.
Thousands of Kurdish insurgents from neighboring Turkey and Syria attacked troops from the group formerly known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) at Sinjar, a town on the road between Mosul and the Syrian border that fell to the Islamists over the weekend.
The fall of Mosul itself, Iraq’s second biggest city, two months ago shocked the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and led to the Islamists conquering huge swathes of territory in an arc from Aleppo in Syria to near the western edge of Baghdad. The group subsequently rebranded itself the “Islamic State” while its leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, proclaimed himself to be the “caliph” — the historic title of the successors of the Prophet Muhammad who ruled the entire Muslim world.
The coalition of Sunni militants that has taken control of much of the northwest of Iraq could soon start to fray, experts predict. Few share the purist interpretation of Islam and Islamic law that its leading fighting group advocates.
Militants from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) shocked Iraq’s government earlier this month when they took control of the country’s second city, Mosul. Backed by Sunni militias and tribes that have long felt marginalized by their Shia rulers in Baghdad, the group has since focused on consolidating its gains by conquering territory and border towns close to Syria — where it is also active, battling the regime of President Bashar Assad.
However, it could struggle to impose its rule. The American Interest‘s Adam Garfinkle argues, “Fanatics are not so good at governance, as Al Qaeda in Iraq proved some years ago, and they are not much better at holding together ideologically heterogeneous coalitions.” The Sunni factions are currently united in their opposition against Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s government but once the campaign has run its course, Garfinkle predicts, the alliance will probably fall apart. Read more “Iraq’s Sunnis Likely to Fall Out Once ISIS Campaign Runs Its Course”
Islamist militants’ conquest of Iraq’s city of Mosul on Tuesday not only poses a challenge to Iraq’s weak central government. It carries implications for the civil war in neighboring Syria, if not the whole region.
Fighters from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS), a Sunni extremist group that claims affiliation with Al Qaeda but is not actually recognized by the international terrorist organization, took Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city, seemingly without much army resistance. They looted banks and military equipment and freed several thousands of prisoners, many of whom are rumored to be former Al Qaeda militants sure to rejoin the ranks of the insurgency.
Even before the Tuesday morning assault into Iraq’s second largest city, Mosul, by hundreds of militants affiliated to Al Qaeda, the Iraqi security forces were stretched thin across the country.
Last week, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS), the breakaway Al Qaeda faction that has solidified a presence in the northern Syrian city of Raqqa, swept into Samarra in a renewed attempt to spark widespread sectarian conflict. While the Iraqi army was quickly dispatched to the city and managed to reclaim neighborhoods previously taken by ISIS fighters, the operation sent shockwaves in the hearts of Iraq’s political officials and once again raised the question of whether the country’s security is at all better since American troops left in 2011.
In yet another reminder of how potent militancy in Iraq has become — and how ineffectual the Iraqi government’s response to terrorist attacks has been — the Sunni extremist group took a large swath of Mosul with little to no army resistance. Banks were looted of what are rumored to be millions of dollars in stolen funds, military checkpoints and police stations were taken, civilians were forced to flee to the Kurdish regions of Iraq and the city’s residents awoke to new overlords. Read more “Islamist Militants Take Mosul, Discrediting Iraq’s Government”