The possible fall of Erbil, the capital of Kurdistan, and the growing violence against Christians and other minorities in Iraq by the Islamist militants has compelled US President Barack Obama to authorise the use of limited airstrikes in Iraq.
“Earlier this week, one Iraqi cried that there is no one coming to help,” said Obama on August 8, “well, today America is coming to help.” This will be the US’s first military engagement in Iraq since all its troops left the strife-torn nation in 2011.
The decision to allow air-strikes was forced by the recent offensive by Islamist militants, The Islamic State, against Kurdish forces. The ISI managed to seize Qaraqosh, Iraq’s biggest Christian town, forcing a mass exodus of as many as 100,000 people toward the autonomous Kurdistan Region.
However, Obama, who was responsible for pulling out US troops from Iraq at the end of 2011, assured the war-weary American people that he would not let this “limited” airstrike pull American into another long-term military engagement. “As commander in chief, I will not allow the United States to be dragged into another war in Iraq,” said Obama.
He announced that the operations would include “targeted airstrikes to protect our American personnel, and a humanitarian effort to help save thousands of Iraqi civilians who are trapped on a mountain without food and water and facing almost certain death.”
Obama also added that the US military aircraft had already dropped food and water to tens of thousands of Yazidis, a religious minority community trapped on Mount Sinjar by IS fighters who have threatened “genocide” against them.
This marks a significant departure from Obama’s “wait and watch” policy in Iraq. In June, the US sent 300 Special Forces troops to assess the situation in Iraq. Obama and the US Secretary of State John Kerry has repeatedly pressed for political unity between various ethnic groups in Iraq and called for a more inclusive government.
The Sunni Jihadist group, formerly known as ISIS, have gained control of large swath of northern Iraq and Syria since June, and have declared an Islamic caliphate in the territory.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said he was “deeply appalled” by the situation in Iraq. According to the UN and estimated 200,000 civilians have been displaced from the town of Sinjar alone.
“When we have the unique capacity to avert a massacre, the United States cannot turn a blind eye,” added Obama.
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