President Barack Obama is scheduled to deliver a speech tonight outlining his strategy for confronting the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS). As Obama told NBC’s Meet the Press: "We are going to systematically degrade their capabilities. We're going to shrink the territory that they control. And ultimately we're going to defeat them." The main features of his strategy likely include mobilizing an international and regional coalition, military support to local partners, carefully targeted air strikes in Iraq (and possibly Syria), and no deployment of U.S. combat troops.
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WHEN Barack Obama spoke to the American public on September 10th, his words had a bearing on more than just Islamic State (IS). His scheme to deal with the “cancer” of IS, the gravest terrorist threat since al-Qaeda, will work only if the Middle East can begin to overcome the chaos that has engulfed it. Equally, America can act as the leader of an enduring coalition against IS only if it can recover some of the status it has lost during years of retrenchment in foreign policy. What the president called “American leadership at its best” is thus both a fight against terrorism and a riposte to those who doubt American power.
The Kurds signed up to the new government in Baghdad this week under great US pressure, confessed Mawlud Bawamurad, the Kurdistan Regional Government’s (KRG) minister for parliamentary affairs. He said the US had made its stepped-up military support in the fight against the Islamic State (IS) conditional on there being a government in Baghdad. In an interview with Rudaw, Bawamurad said that, although the agreement signed in Baghdad is not perfect for the Kurds, it is enough for now: “What is important is that our participation in it is conditional and the witness to our conditions is America.” An edited transcript of his interview follows:
In the past 13 years, Al-Qaeda has never managed to produce anything close to the spectacular strikes of Sept. 11, 2001 that triggered President George W. Bush's war on terrorism. Years of relentless targeting by the U.S. and allied intelligence agencies have relegated it to the sidelines of history and reduced the movement's core to a shadow of its once menacing image. So it came to be that as Barack Obama's administration launched its own war on terrorism in a speech on Wednesday night, its target was not the network created by Osama bin Laden, but the upstart Islamic State movement that now controls huge swaths of Syria and Iraq.
Many Arab governments grumbled quietly in 2011 as the United States left Iraq, fearful it might fall deeper into chaos or Iranian influence. Now, the United States is back and getting a less than enthusiastic welcome, with leading allies like Egypt, Jordan and Turkey all finding ways on Thursday to avoid specific commitments to President Obama’s expanded military campaign against Sunni extremists.
As the prospect of the first American strikes inside Syria crackled through the region, the mixed reactions underscored the challenges of a new military intervention in the Middle East, where 13 years of chaos, from Sept. 11 through the Arab Spring revolts, have deepened political and sectarian divisions and increased mistrust of the United States on all sides.
Turkey will refuse to allow a U.S.-led coalition to attack jihadists in neighboring Iraq and Syria from its air bases, nor will it take part in combat operations against militants, a government official told AFP Thursday. “Turkey will not be involved in any armed operation but will entirely concentrate on humanitarian operations,” the official said on condition of anonymity. The decision echoes the country’s refusal to allow the U.S. to station 60,000 troops in Turkey in 2003 to invade Iraq from the north, which triggered a crisis between the two allies.
A group of Iraqi Sunni refugees had found shelter in an abandoned school, two families to a room, after fleeing fighters from the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. They were gathered in the school’s courtyard last week when the Iraqi Air Force bombed them.
The bombing, in Alam District near Tikrit, may well have been a mistake. But some of the survivors believe adamantly that the pilot had to know he was bombing civilians, landing the airstrike “in the middle of all the people,” said Nimr Ghalib, whose wife, three children, sister and nephew were among at least 38 people killed, according to witnesses interviewed last week, as well as human rights workers who detailed the attack on Wednesday.
On Sept. 10, US President Barack Obama will outline his administration’s plans for fighting the Islamic State (IS). His secretary of defense, Chuck Hagel, was in Ankara Sept. 9 to see what role Turkey could take in this US-led coalition of the willing against the IS militants in Iraq. Although the Turkish side refrained from making any clear public commitment to this coalition, it agreed to be part of it in principle. Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu stressed that Turkish officials are worried about a potential backlash that could cost the lives of 49 Turkey’s Mosul consulate hostages held by IS militants since June 11, and also concerned about Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) members acquiring more weapons.
For President Obama, this is gut-check time on Iraq. He is moving the nation back onto a pitiless battlefield, with a war plan that is long on good intentions and short on clarity about the ultimate mission. It’s a wrenching moment: A president who for several years seemed allergic to U.S. involvement in the Iraqi and Syrian wars is being drawn into this conflict by circumstances that even the skeptics agree require U.S. action. Obama kept his distance despite the deaths of 200,000 Syrians but apparently can’t do so any longer after the beheading of two Americans.
On the eve of U.S. President Barack Obama’s speech outlining the American strategy against ISIS, and after the formation of a new government that was like a “caesarean operation,” Iraq’s new deputy Prime Minister said that ISIS in Iraq could be defeated. “I think they are on the run, on the defensive. And with the increased international support coming … I think they would be defeated, at least here in Iraq. We have every confidence,” Hoshyar Zebari, who was long the Iraqi foreign minister, told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour on Tuesday.
Zebari hailed the formation of a new government – a “big, big challenge” – but some are skeptical whether the leadership is renewed or simply reshuffled. “We all agree that this government has to be different from the previous government – in its leadership, in its faces, in its composition, and its representation.”