As its citizens brace for all-out civil war in Iraq, President Obama at noon on Friday updated his administration's assessment of the highly volatile situation in Iraq by confirming he was not contemplating putting U.S. troops back on the ground in Iraq, but that his national security team is considering various military and political options which could include airstrikes.
The government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has been increasingly public in its request for additional U.S. assistance in the fight against the Sunni militia known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) that has claimed large swaths of territory in the country in recent days.
"We will not be sending US troops back into combat but I have asked my national security team to arrange a number of options," said Obama on the south lawn of the White House. "I will be reviewing those options in the days ahead."
According to reporting earlier in the day by the Guardian's Spencer Ackerman and Paul Lewis:
Options under discussion [by Obaman's national security team] include an air campaign, using either or both air force or navy warplanes, whose duration has yet to be determined. Drone strikes remain under consideration, but manned aircraft are said to the preferred option, owing to their superiority against moving and manoeuvrable targets.
Two officials said that a strike at Isis in Iraq and Syria was under consideration.
Isis "is now across the border," said a Pentagon official, who requested anonymity. "It is possible to take out the head, you've got to take out the heart … Everything is being looked at."
In Iraq meanwhile, military units—on both sides of what looks increasingly like a sectarian war drawn along distinct sectarian Sunni and Shiite lines—are reportedly on the move as tensions mount over an assault on Baghdad by ISIL fighters.
According to CNN:
Emboldened Sunni militants, backed by local tribal leaders, pushed toward Baghdad on Friday as Iran sent troops to fight alongside government forces. In Washington, increasingly nervous U.S. officials mulled their limited options to help slow the militants' advance.
In recent days, Iran has sent about 500 Revolutionary Guard troops to fight alongside Iraqi government security forces in Diyala province, a senior security official in Baghdad told CNN.
Meanwhile, Sunni tribal leaders have lined up behind radical Islamists from the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, making their push toward Baghdad easier, a Saudi intelligence official told CNN's Nic Robertson.
And as part of its live coverage, The Guardian offered a rundown of recent developments as of early Friday afternoon, including:
• The US is considering an air assault on Isis in Iraq and Syria, of either drones or manned aircraft. Obama said he will consider "a range of options" presented by his national security team.
• Shia Iraqis are rallying to militias after Iraq's most senior Shia cleric, cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, called for Iraqis to take up arms against "terrorists". Speaking at Friday prayers, he said: "He who sacrifices for the cause of defending his country and his family and his honour will be a martyr."
• Sunni insurgents have clashed with Shia militia in two towns as the two sides appear to be preparing for a battle in Samarra. Convoys of Shia militias were seen heading to the city to defend Shia shrines reportedly surrounded by Isis insurgents.
• The UN says it has verified reports of summary executions by Isis militants in Mosul. Human rights spokesman Rupert Colville said his office had reports the killings included the execution of 17 civilians.
Offering contextual background at Vox.com, Zach Beauchamps lists an array of dynamics that help "explain the escalating crisis in Iraq."
At The Nation, journalist Greg Miller catalogs the troubling landscape of the mainstream and corporate media that is proving itself again incapable of adequately interpreting events in the Middle East as a U.S. president considers military action in Iraq.
And countering the rush to war and the false narrative that it was the withdrawl of U.S. troops in 2011—as opposed to the 2003 invasion launched by Obama's predecessor George W. Bush—an essay by John Tirnman, who directs the Center for International Studies at MIT, explains how the disaster now unfolding in Iraq is a direct result of the dominant U.S. foreign policy of the modern era in which administrations from both parties have tried to impose their authority or solve complex crises with the same blunt and bloody instrument of armed intervention. When it comes to the new developments in Iraq, writes Tirnman:
The discourse in Washington, as always, will be superficial, partisan, and knowledge-free. The blaming of Obama for leaving Iraq in 2011 will be the Fox News mantra of coming days and weeks (and, judging from the Benghazi flap, for years). Even the New York Times on Wednesday morning -- reporting that the forces of the extremists, the Islamic State of Syria and Iraq, or ISIS, had overrun Mosul and were headed toward Baghdad -- mentioned that this was another blow to the White House's faltering foreign policy. But while Obama has his share of missteps, the responsibility for this catastrophe rests with the neocons of the George W. Bush years and the liberal hawks who can't help but propose war when they see a wrong that needs righting.
The fundamental lesson here—though much more needs to be explored—is that the root of our blunders is the heavy reliance on military solutions, whether invading countries, imposing sanctions, arming proxies, or propping up authoritarians. The authors of these "solutions" have not all retreated to right-wing think tanks; many are in powerful posts at the UN, the White House, and the presidential campaigns of the future. If we and they don't grapple with this failure of common sense, the catastrophe will continue to unfold.