National Security

ISIL Begins War With U.S.

Obama may wish to avoid a real U.S. commitment in Iraq, but ISIL may force his hand.

Aug. 20, 2014
A jihadi preparing to execute James Foley

The Iraqi military is gaining momentum against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in the wake of American air strikes in recent days. Yet Barack Obama still seems intent on keeping involvement at a minimum. That may not be possible.

First, a brief recap. Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki finally agreed last Thursday to resign, leaving Haider al-Abadi to take the reins of the war-torn country. This perhaps means progress can be made to restore political stability. Still, Abadi, like Maliki, is a Shiite from the State of Law Party, and he spent most of his adult life in exile in Great Britain. Whether Sunnis and Kurds accept him and whether his time out of the nation proves positive or negative remains to be seen.

Secretary of State John Kerry praised Maliki’s decision as “important and honorable.” He added, “[T]he United States stands ready to partner with a new and inclusive government to counter this threat” from ISIL, which continues to spread its violence throughout much of the country.

Obama prematurely claimed last week that his drive-by bombing in Iraq was a success. “We broke the ISIL siege of Mount Sinjar, we helped vulnerable people reach safety, and we helped save many innocent lives,” the president declared, also announcing the near-immediate withdrawal of the handful of U.S. personnel in the area. But was the mission a success? Not if the fact that thousands of Yazidis remain stranded on the mountain matters.

ISIL is still attacking and murdering Yazidis and Christians elsewhere, too. The Daily Signal reports, “Yezidi leaders say more than 100 of their men were executed Friday afternoon by Islamist terrorists in the village of Kocho, located southeast of Sinjar in northern Iraq.” According to Reuters, women and children are being buried alive, if they aren’t sold as sex slaves. Christians are facing similar torment, being forced from their homes and sometimes killed.

ISIL also beheaded American journalist James Foley, a Christian. He was captured in Syria in 2012, and the White House even reportedly knew of his impending doom. ISIL threatens to do likewise to Steven Sotloff, another freelance American journalist, and taunted America, saying, “[W]e will drown all of you in blood.”

But not to worry – the UN Security Council voted unanimously to level sanctions against six ISIL militants, including travel bans and asset freezes. The Security Council resolution “deplores and condemns in the strongest terms the terrorist acts of ISIL (Islamic State) and its violent extremist ideology, and its continued gross, systematic and widespread abuses of human rights and violations of international humanitarian law.”

So take that.

The U.S. did, however, conduct further airstrikes on Saturday, aiding an Iraqi military operation to regain control of Mosul Dam. That critical piece of infrastructure supplies power to central Iraq, as well as provides fresh water and prevents massive flooding in the area. All told, the U.S. had conducted 68 airstrikes as of Monday, with 35 coming in the weekend assault on the dam. And U.S. officials say more strikes could be in the offing, especially given that ISIL is mounting a counteroffensive to retake the dam.

The Wall Street Journal says this small win is a glimmer of good news, but adds caution, writing, “It’s clear there is also growing coordination between the U.S. bombing runs and Kurdish forces on the ground. This means that CIA operatives and U.S. special forces are also in Iraq lending intelligence and other support. Mr. Obama keeps saying the U.S. role will be limited and no American ‘combat troops’ will return to Iraq, but special forces are combat troops by any definition. That they may not be at the front lines doesn’t mean they aren’t at war. And rest assured ISIS considers itself at war with the U.S. and will try to kill any Americans it can in Iraq or the U.S. homeland.”

It’s critical to U.S. interests that ISIL be stopped and defeated. Unfortunately, it may be that Obama doesn’t have the stomach for such an effort when his real objective is avoiding at all costs validating George W. Bush.

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