peace winner’s reluctant war
| Barack Obama announces at the White House that he has authorised air strikes and relief drops in Iraq to prevent a “genocide”. (AFP)
Aug. 8: Barack Obama, the President who won the Peace Nobel in 2009, was compelled today to send warplanes to bomb militants marching on Iraq’s Kurdish capital where minorities have taken shelter and the US has much at stake.
“Earlier this week, one Iraqi in the area cried to the world, ‘There is no one coming to help’,” Obama told Americans in a television address. “Well, today America is coming to help.”
“We can act carefully and responsibly to prevent a potential act of genocide,” Obama said, returning the US to a direct combat role in Iraq for the first time since the American pullout in 2011.
Islamic State fighters, who have beheaded and crucified captives in their drive to eradicate non-believers, have advanced to within a half hour’s drive of Arbil, the prosperous capital of Iraq’s Kurdish region and a hub for US oil companies, diplomats and military advisers.
Arbil became an oil boomtown when the rest of Iraq was often too dangerous for foreign staff. US oil majors Exxon Mobil and Chevron have evacuated expatriate staff from Iraqi Kurdistan.
A Pentagon spokesperson said two F/A-18 aircraft from an aircraft carrier in the Gulf had dropped laser-guided 500-pound bombs on a mobile artillery piece used by the fighters to shell Kurdish forces defending Arbil.
Obama said he authorised the strikes to protect Americans and safeguard thousands of Christians and members of other religious minorities who have fled for their lives.
The US dropped relief supplies to members of the ancient Yazidi sect, who are massed on a mountaintop seeking shelter from fighters who had ordered them to convert or die.
Yazidis, ethnic Kurds who practise an ancient faith related to Zoroastrianism, are among a handful of pre-Islamic minority groups who survived for centuries in northern Iraq. Islamic State fighters consider them “devil worshippers”.
Numerous Christian denominations have also lived in northern Iraq since long before the arrival of Islam.
Obama, who brought American troops home from Iraq to fulfil a campaign pledge, insisted he would not commit ground forces and had no intention of letting the US “get dragged into fighting another war in Iraq”.
Questions were quickly raised in Washington about whether selective US attacks on militant positions would be enough to shift the balance.
The Islamic State was defiant. A fighter said 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.
While the militants are not believed to have surface-to-air missiles, they do have machine guns that can hit planes flying at a low altitude. The militants had seized heavy weapons from Iraqi army troops who had abandoned their posts in June. The fighters are flush with cash looted from banks.