US Airstrikes in Iraq

The United States is launching airstrikes in Iraq for the first time since July 2011. Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Maliki requested US air strikes to halt the militants’ advance in June 2014, when ISIS took over Mosul (BBC). President Obama insisted that US military forces would be prepared to take targeted action in Iraq if and when it was determined that the situation required it (President Obama, Statement by the President on Iraq). On August 7th President Barack Obama authorized targeted airstrikes in Iraq to protect Americans if a rapidly advancing militant group moved on the town of Erbil, where US diplomats and military troops are stationed. President Obama also authorized a humanitarian effort to assist tens of thousands of Iraqi citizens whom have been trapped on a mountain in northern Iraq with no food or water (President Obama, Statement by the President).

The rapidly moving Sunni militant group is fighting largely against religious minorities in Iraq while jeopardizing the safety of Americans and innocent Iraqi civilians. ISIS/ISIL, have rapidly advanced toward Erbil, the capital of Iraq’s Kurdish region. Currently, there are American diplomats and citizens stationed in Erbil to serve the US military forces in Iraq and to advise the Iraqi military forces and Iraqi government. Should the Islamic State advance closer to Erbil, President Obama has authorized targeted military strikes against IS convoys. The US military is also providing assistance to the Iraqi government and Kurdish forces to help fight against IS (President Obama, Statement by the President).

The Islamic State has demonstrated itself to be a strong militant group with malicious intent. The group has kidnapped women and children and killed many Iraqi civilians while destructively laying siege to towns across Iraq. IS has consistently gained control of land in the Middle East in an attempt to establish a caliphate. The violent advances of the Islamic State has forced tens of thousands of innocent citizens from religious minority groups, to flee their homes and have been forced onto Mount Sinjar in the Kurdish region of northern Iraq. The vast majority of the fleeing citizens are Yazidi people, others Christian, and some identify with an ancient religious sect (President Obama, Statement by the President). The Islamic State view the Yazidi people as Shiite apostates (Fox News & The Associated Press). The IS militants are allegedly on a mission of religious and ideological cleansing, committing violent genocidal crimes against the Yazidi people. At the request of the Iraqi government, the United States military initiated operations to rescue the displaced and endangered citizens on Mount Sinjar, who have gone without food and water for several days (President Obama, Statement by the President).

Later in the evening on August 7th, as requested, humanitarian aid was provided to the Iraqi citizens in distress. Food and water were successfully airlifted to the thousands of Iraqi citizens taking refuge in the mountains of northern Iraq. 8,000 meals were airlifted to the civilians along with 5,300 gallons of water. United States Secretary of Defense, Chuck Hagel, insisted that the US military is prepared to further assist the Iraqi citizens trapped at Mount Sinjar (US Department of Defense).

The day after President Obama’s official authorization of targeted air strikes, American forces successfully prevented the advancement of the Islamic State toward Erbil (President Obama, Statement by the President on Iraq). In the early morning hours of Friday, August 8th, two FA/18 air crafts dropped 500 pound laser-guided bombs on a mobile artillery piece that IS militants were using to shell Kurdish forces defending theiir capital city of Erbil (US Department of Defense). Later in the morning, the US military continued to attack the Islamic State militants nearby. A remotely piloted US aircraft struck an IS mortar position, but IS militants returned to the position moments after the first strikes, the aircraft attacked a second time after which the IS militants were successfully eliminated (US Department of Defense).

Airstrikes continued throughout the remainder of the morning on August 8th. Four FA/18 air crafts struck a stationary IS convoy of 7 vehicles and another mortar position near Erbil. In two planned passes, each air craft dropped one laser-guided bomb, a total of 8 bombs were dropped in the destruction of the IS convoy and mortar (US Department of Defense).

A second bout of humanitarian assistance operations proved successful on the evening of August 8th. Another airdrop of food and water to Mount Sinjar, Iraq, provided hope for the thousands of trapped and starving Iraqi civilians. A C-17 aircraft with a 40 container delivery system bundles of ready-to-eat meals and a C-30 with 16 bundles, totaled for 28,224 meals effectively administered to the Iraqi citizens. Along with the food supplies, a second C-30 brought 1,522 gallons of fresh drinking water (US Department of Defense). The United States Pentagon released a press report stating that moving forward, the US military will work with the Department of State and international partners such the United Nations, the Iraqi government, and non-government organizations to assess the need for additional humanitarian efforts (US Department of Defense).

While the US had conducted military air strikes over the following few days, Kurdish forces continued to protect their city on the ground (President Obama, Statement by the President on Iraq). The aggression of the IS may not be matched by the capacity of the Kurdish forces. They have requested more US air strikes and provisions of weaponry to fight against the IS (BBC). President Obama claims that military assistance to the Kurdish forces has been increased (President Obama, Statement by the President).

International forces are at work to provide assistance in the Iraqi humanitarian crisis. Britain and France have sent £8m ($13.5m) of emergency aid to the Iraqi citizens. The United Nations claim to be working on opening a humanitarian corridor in northern Iraq to allow the thousands of trapped civilians to flee (BBC).

The US continue to provide humanitarian aid to the Yazidi people stranded in Northern Iraq. As of Wednesday, August 13th, a total of six airdrops of food and water have been delivered to Mount Sinjar. President Obama assured the world on Thursday, August 14th, that a total of more than 114,000 meals and 35,000 gallons of fresh water have been airlifted to the Iraqi people trapped on Mount Sinjar (US Department of Defense). The United Kingdom and other Iraqi allies have contributed to the humanitarian efforts, and have pledged their support in moving forward to rescue the Yazidi people (President Obama, Statements by the President).

The situation on Mount Sinjar greatly improved when US military forces helped to break the IS siege on the mountain, freeing the thousands of Yazidi, Christians and Iraqi people of other religious minorities that were trapped on the mountain for several days (President Obama, Statements by the President). The likelihood of a rescue mission conducted by the UN, US, or any other international body is low, as thousands of Iraqi people have already fled the mountain and reached refugee camps within the Kurdish region (BBC). The ongoing evacuation of Iraqi people from Mount Sinjar indicates that airdrops of food on behalf of the US government will no longer be necessary.

The United Nations are actively addressing the fluctuation of conflict and political instability in Iraq. The UN has declared the highest state of emergency, Level 3, in Iraq. Declaring a Level 3 state of emergency will allow the UN to speed up their response to the crisis in Iraq (BBC). On Friday, August 15th, the UN Security Council is expected to pass a resolution set to weaken IS. The resolution is aimed at punishing all those who finance, supply weapons, or recruit fighters for IS, while blacklisting six IS leaders. The resolution has been drafted by the UK and is expected to be adopted unanimously by all fifteen members of the UN Security Council upon reaching the floor, Friday morning, at the New York United Nations Headquarters (United Nations).

Intervention in Iraq will likely be a catalyst of political change in the near future, especially in the Kurdish region. The Kurdish region is the most autonomous in all of Iraq. Kurdish independence from Iraq is a possible outcome of the current IS fighting. This change would have severe implications for nations such as Turkey, Iran and Syria, all of which have Kurdish Minorities, but may lead to an increase of regional stability (BBC).

Political changes in Iraq are already underway as Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has agreed to step down from his position as of Thursday, August 14th. Al-Maliki resigned on state TV and pledged his support for Haider al-Abadi, who has been asked by Iraqi President Fuad Masum to form a new government in Iraq. Haider al-Abadi is backed by the UN Security Council and the US (BBC). Prior to his resignation, al-Maliki had been pressured to step down from his position by many members of the Iraqi government and various international actors such as Iran and the US. In his eight years serving as Prime Minister, al-Maliki has been accused of favoring the Shia majority in Iraq. Candidate Hairer al-Abadi has proved to be a strong leader of the biggest bloc in Iraqi parliament, and is one of Iraq’s most senior politicians (BBC). The formation of a stable government in Iraq is looking up, as the election of a new prime minister is a step toward the unification of Iraq. The development of a unified government will be a step toward mobilizing Iraqi people against the IS forces, which seems to be the prevailing aim of the Iraqi government, UN, and US.

Whether the war moves toward positive progress and the implementation of a stable and unified government, more destruction and bloodshed, or both, the current civil war in Iraq is definitely at a turning point. The maze of twists and turns that define the history and unfolding outcome of the Iraqi civil war have United States military influence and intervention of international bodies intermingled throughout. As a dominant influence in the complex and violent war, the US bears indirect responsibility for many of the costs in the Iraqi civil war; a reality that has scarcely been accepted by many parties involved, especially the United States. Nevertheless, in any war, it is imperative that difficult decisions are made. Often times those decisions have costly outcomes and involve walking along a thin line moral line.

While the US will continue airstrikes in Iraq, President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry have both said, on numerous occasions, that ultimately the people of Iraq are the only ones who can create stability in their state (President Obama, Statement by the President). It seems that steps toward stability in Iraq have only been made possible under the influence of foreign actors. At this point, the Iraqi people are neither militarily or politically independent, but the baby-steps toward political unification in Iraq are evident progress. The battle against IS is being fought at an international-level, while the Islamic State continues to ruthlessly fight a homeland revolution as ideologues of religious righteousness. One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter, both of which are humans.

Works Cited

BBC. “Iraq: US air strike on Islamic State militants in Iraq.” BBC News, 8 August 2014.

Fox News & The Associated Press. “US launches five more airstrikes Sunday, destroying four Islamic State armored vehicles.” Fox News Politics (2014).

President Obama, Barack. “Statement by the President.” Statement by the President. Washington D.C.: The White House, 7th August 2014.
—. “Statement by the President on Iraq.” Statement by the President on Iraq. Martha’s Vineyard: The White House, 11 August 2014.

US Department of Defense. “Statement by Pentagon Press Secretary Rear Admiral John Kirby.” Statement by Pentagon Press Secretary Rear Admiral John Kirby. Pentagon, 8 August 2014.
—. “Statement by Pentagon Press Secretary Rear Admiral John Kirby on Airstrikes in Iraq.” Washington D.C.: Pentagon, 8 August 2014.
—. “Statement on Iraq by Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel.” 7 August 2014.

Williams, Holly. “U.S. airstrikes enabling Kurdish forces to hold Erbil.” CBS, 11 August 2014.