BAGHDAD/IRBIL, Iraq: U.S. warplanes launched two rounds of airstrikes targeting ISIS militants marching on Iraq’s Kurdish capital Friday but stepped-up American military assistance for Baghdad will come only when the country forms a new “inclusive” government, the White House said.
White House spokesman Josh Earnest said initial U.S. support will focus on military strikes to protect American personnel working in Iraq, and addressing the urgent humanitarian situation on Sinjar mountain, with officials warning against a “genocide” by ISIS fighters against Iraqi minority groups.
Washington’s third goal is “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 ISIS, he said, reiterating that any U.S. support will not be “prolonged” and will not involve sending U.S. troops to the country.
The spokesman’s reference to an “inclusive” government deserving further military assistance likely signals Washington’s belief that divisive Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki will have to step aside if a solution to Iraq’s political impasse is to be reached.
In authorizing the first U.S. airstrikes on Iraq since he pulled all troops out in 2011, Obama also ordered the dropping of relief supplies to members of the Yezidi sect, tens of thousands of whom are massed on a desert mountaintop seeking shelter from fighters who had ordered them to convert or die.
“Earlier this week, one Iraqi in the area cried to the world, ‘There is no one coming to help,’” Obama said in a late night television address to the nation Thursday. “Well, today America is coming to help.”
“We can act carefully and responsibly to prevent a potential act of genocide,” he said.
ISIS fighters have advanced to within a half hour’s drive of Irbil, capital of Iraq’s Kurdish region and a hub for U.S. oil companies.
They have also seized control of the Mosul dam, the country’s largest, Kurdish authorities confirmed, which could allow them to flood cities and cut off vital water and electricity supplies.
A Pentagon spokesman 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 Irbil.turn to page 8from page 1A second round of strikes – involving fighter aircraft and a drone – followed late Friday evening.
ISIS was defiant. A fighter said the airstrikes 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?”
The U.S. airstrikes prompted renewed calls on jihadi online forums for attacks on the United States and oil interests in the Gulf.
“The mujahedeen must strive ... to discipline America and its criminal soldiers,” the SITE monitoring service quoted one such message, on the Shumukh al-Islam jihadi forum, as saying.
Questions were quickly raised in Washington about whether selective U.S. attacks on ISIS positions would be enough to shift the balance on the battlefield against the Islamist extremists.