The president’s plan focuses on increased airstrikes in Iraq — where more than 150 have already been carried out over the past month — and next in Syria, and assembling a “broad coalition” to back the assault. Obama insisted this will not include U.S. combat boots on the ground, but, he said, others will do so.
If this coalition approach fails, Gen. Martin Dempsey, chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the Senate Armed Services Committee, Sept. 16, he would “make a recommendation that may include the use of U.S. military ground forces.”
The president sent an additional 475 military personnel to Iraq, bringing the number of U.S. troops stationed there, primarily in Erbil and Baghdad, to more than 1,700. “U.S. advisory teams consisting of 12 or so men are preparing to join Iraqi divisions and brigades, moving out of operations centers to begin a more hands-on approach,” noted the Wall Street Journal.
Expanded airstrikes following Obama’s speech hit near Baghdad, Iraq’s capital, Sept. 15. Paris announced three days earlier it would undertake airstrikes against Islamic State forces in Iraq “if necessary.” The Australian government said it would contribute 600 troops and up to 10 military aircraft.
Expanding executive branch powersThe president asserted he has executive authority to undertake military action in Iraq and Syria, based on the nearly 12-year-old Authority to Use Military Force law, passed by Congress after al-Qaeda’s attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon. In a May 2013 speech at the National Defense University, Obama had called for repealing this law, saying “al-Qaeda is a shell of its former self.”
The New York Times, and some liberal Democrats and libertarian Republicans, have criticized Obama’s reliance on executive power. The president is “putting forward unjustifiable interpretations of the executive branch’s authority to use military force without explicit approval from Congress,” the Times said in a Sept. 12 editorial.
While many Republican officials have criticized Obama for refusing to intervene in Iraq and Syria earlier and more forcibly, the White House said it was “pleasantly surprised” by the nonpartisan support his war speech got.
The CIA in a September report projects the number of Islamic State fighters to be between 20,000 and 31,500, including more than 15,000 foreign fighters.
Openings to advance Kurds’ fightThe Kurds, an oppressed nationality living in Iran, Iraq, Turkey and Syria, have stepped forward to take on Islamic State and to advance their struggle for a Kurdish homeland in Iraq. Washington, which has relentlessly opposed Kurdish independence, wants to reimpose a centralized Iraqi government with powers over the Kurds’ autonomous region.
Peshmerga, the army of the Kurdish Regional Government in northern Iraq, seeks the weapons necessary to further this struggle. Washington and other imperialist powers, fearing the dynamic toward Kurdish sovereignty, are not providing needed arms and other materiel.
Peshmerga, backed by fighters from the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) from Turkey, recaptured six villages on the outskirts of Mosul from Islamic State forces.
Members of the Committees for the Protection of the Kurdish People (YPG) in Syria are also fighting alongside Peshmerga to retake Shingal, the city that Islamic State forces overran last month, driving tens of thousands of the Kurdish-speaking Yazidi religious group from their homes and threatening to kill those who did not convert to Sunni Islam.
The struggles in Syria began as a massive popular revolt in March 2011 against President Bashar al-Assad’s brutal rule. His regime responded with bombings and sieges, targeting civilians, killing more than 190,000 people and displacing 10.5 million, according to the U.N. In the face of this assault — and refusal by Washington to provide arms to counter the slaughter — the opposition weakened and fractured, and Islamic State forces pushed them aside and filled the vacuum.
In his war speech Obama called for a “political solution” in Syria, while Assad, backed by Moscow and Tehran, remains in power.
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