US military bombs two more targets in northern Iraq

Members of Congress support air strikes but Republicans question Obama’s long-term strategy

Fri, Aug 8, 2014, 21:41

The US military conducted two additional air strikes against Islamic State forces near the city of Arbil in northern Iraq this evening, the Pentagon said.

The air strikes, which follow the dropping of two 500-pound bombs on Islamic State positions earlier today, included a drone strike on a mortar position and an attack by four F/A-18 jets on an Islamic State convoy and mortar position, the Pentagon said in a statement.

Lawmakers in Washington have welcomed president Barack Obama’s decision to attack advancing Islamist militants in Iraq, but some questioned whether his administration has a long-term strategy to arrest Iraq’s disintegration.

The United States has a consulate and, since Iraq’s latest security crisis erupted in June, a joint military operations center staffed by 40 US servicemen in Arbil, capital of the semi-autonomous Iraqi Kurdistan region.

Members of the US Congress supported the air strikes, but Republicans demanded the president spell out a long-term strategy. Even Mr Obama’s closest Democratic allies made clear they wanted him to work with legislators, not circumvent them.

Today’s strikes were the first aggressive US military action in Iraq 2-1/2 years after Mr Obama withdrew the last American troops, fulfilling a promise he campaigned on to win office in 2008 and ending a bloody US war that began in 2003.

Mr Obama authorised air strikes late last night to avert “a potential act of genocide” of tens of thousands of members of the ancient Yazidi sect who have taken refuge on a desert mountaintop from Islamic State forces. The United States has also begun dropping relief supplies to the refugees.

The White House said today the military engagement would not involve ground forces. But reflecting Washington’s pressure on Iraqi politicians to form a government that includes Sunnis, Shias and Kurds, the White House said the authorisation for limited action could eventually include more military support to Iraqi security forces once the country forms a new “inclusive” government.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest said the initial US support would be military strikes to protect American personnel in Iraq and to address an urgent humanitarian situation.

But the United States also has a third goal “related to our belief and commitment to supporting integrated Iraqi security forces and Kurdish security forces as they unite the country to repel the threat” posed by Islamic State fighters, he said.

The Islamic State was defiant. A fighter told Reuters by telephone the US air strikes would have “no impact on us”.

“The planes attack positions they think are strategic, but this is not how we operate. We are trained for guerrilla street war,” he said. “God is with us and our promise is heaven. When we are promised heaven, do you think death will stop us?”

In Baghdad, where politicians have been paralysed by infighting while the state falls apart, the top Shia cleric all but demanded prime minister Nuri al-Maliki quit, a bold intervention that could bring the veteran ruler down.