Friday, August 8, 2014

Enter the Airstrikes

Two months have past since the United States announced the potential use of airstrikes in Iraq. This morning, Rear Admiral Jack Kirby tweeted that the US had finally utilized airstrikes against the Islamic State (IS) in Northern Iraq.

The IS campaign in Iraq began making headlines back in June, and many following the conflict have questioned why the US waited until now to provide direct combat assistance. There are several potential reasons for this.

1. Regional Politics
One of the many reasons IS targeted Iraq was because its Shia-majority government failed to include Sunnis in high government positions (hence IS being aided by Sunni tribes). There have been numerous calls from nationals and foreign powers alike for the Iraqi government to reform, and it has yet to do so. The Kurdish Autonomous Region in Northern Iraq has been considered by many analysts to be much more stable than the government in Baghdad. They have also been more successful in defending their territory from IS than the rest of the Iraqi security forces. This may have made the Kurdish region a more suitable candidate for direct combat assistance.

2. IS Organization
My earlier blog posts discussed the potential outcomes of IS incorporating captured weapons and vehicles into their Iraq offensive. IS has since followed through and is using its newly acquired arsenal to great effect. Even Rear Admiral Kirby's tweet specifically mentions IS artillery as the main target for the first airstrike. Iraqi security forces have not only suffered physical losses to the organized IS, but also morale. Even Kurdish Peshmerga forces, who were initially successful in their defense, have begun to experience setbacks. IS in Iraq is no longer the army of trucks and tribal fighters witnessed two months ago.

3. Humanitarian Crisis
In face of the IS onslaught, thousands have fled Iraq in search of safe haven. However, many religious communities in the North, such as the Yazidi, have been specifically targeted by IS. Their escape from IS has left them without sufficient food, water, and medicine. The US, and now the the UK, have promised to airdrop supplies to these affected communities. IS has been open of its brutal plans to eliminate non-Sunnis, thus bringing an element of genocide to the conflict.

Even though the US mentioned its personnel in Erbil were at risk, it has had advisers in Iraq since June. Other factors were likely included in the decision to airstrike IS besides the potential threat to US military personnel.  

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