By Zachary Toillion
President Obama gave a rare late night address on Thursday announcing a humanitarian operation in Iraq that provided supplies to 40,000 Yazidis—a small religious sect trapped on Sinjar Mountain in northern Iraq. In his address Obama stated, “When we face a situation like we do on that mountain—with innocent people facing the prospect of violence on a horrific scale, when we have a mandate to help—in this case, a request from the Iraqi government—and when we have the unique capabilities to help avert a massacre, then I believe the United States of America cannot turn a blind eye.”
The Yazidis became imperiled when ISIS forces surrounded Sinjar Mountain and choked off their supply of food and water. ISIS previously had vowed to murder the Yazidis for religious heresy. The Yazidis are closely affiliated with the Kurds, an ethnic minority in Northern Iraq that was persecuted by Saddam Hussein after the Gulf War. In an unprecedented move, Iraq’s central government has armed the Kurds to fight ISIS forces.
ISIS, short for “Islamic State in Iraq and Syria,” is an Islamic fundamentalist terrorist organization based predominantly in Syria. ISIS was previously affiliated with fellow jihadist group Al Qaeda, but the two became separate entities in February. ISIS is well funded, receiving donations worldwide for its terror operations, and has also made use of social media to spread its message. ISIS is infamous for its horrific use of violence, including beheadings, crucifictions and executing people after having them dig their own graves.
ISIS has systematically taken over cities in Iraq and Syria for months. It has focused on strategically advantageous areas, such as oil fields, airports, banks and a dam. ISIS’s ultimate goal is to establish an Islamic theocracy in the Middle East with hopes of eventually establishing a world government subject to the Islamic law.
President Obama authorized airstrikes in Iraq and on Friday, the US military conducted three separate strikes on ISIS forces. On Saturday, four additional strikes occurred. Several of these strikes were to prevent ISIS from gaining a foothold in Erbil, a city that houses American diplomats. Obama stated the factors that would be weighed when pursuing airstrikes in the same speech, “To stop the advance on Erbil, I’ve directed our military to take targeted strikes against ISIL terrorist convoys should they move toward the city. We intend to stay vigilant, and take action if these terrorist forces threaten our personnel or facilities anywhere in Iraq, including our consulate in Erbil and our embassy in Baghdad. We’re also providing urgent assistance to Iraqi government and Kurdish forces so they can more effectively wage the fight against ISIL.”
The president’s actions were not without their critics. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) claimed the strikes were “meaningless” and the central US goal should be the elimination of ISIS itself. Members of both parties expressed concern that the strikes will lead to an entanglement that results in more ground forces being sent into Iraq. Obama stated in a press conference on Saturday, “I don’t think we’re going to solve this problem in weeks. This is going to be a long term project.” What seems clear is that airstrikes on Iraq may be a long term reality.