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Smoke rises during airstrikes targeting Islamic State militants at the Mosul Dam outside Mosul, Iraq, Monday, Aug. 18, 2014. (Photo: Khalid Mohammed / AP)

Information Scarce, Warnings Mount as US Expands War in Iraq

Critics warn attacks deepen the humanitarian crisis and contradict other U.S. policies in the region.

Sarah Lazare

The U.S. unleashed fresh onslaughts of air strikes on ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) positions in Iraq on Wednesday and Thursday—the latest in an expanding  war campaign where public information about the details and aims of the operation remain sparse.

U.S. Central Command announced that it used drones, fighter jets, and attack aircraft to launch 14 air strikes in the vicinity of the Mosul Dam in northern Iraq on Wednesday, attacks that were followed by six additional air strikes on Thursday. According to the Central Command, this brings the total number of air strikes on Iraq since August 8 to 90—with 57 of them near the Mosul Dam.

Meanwhile, the U.S. military is weighing the possibility of sending up to 300 additional U.S. troops to Iraq to provide "security" around Baghdad, an anonymous U.S. official recently told the Associated Press. The U.S. has already deployed at least 750 military personnel to Iraq, in addition to the 100 who work from the U.S. embassy in Baghdad. Of the 750, 160 are stationed at "joint operation command centers" in Baghdad and Erbil where they directly work with Iraqi and Kurdish military forces to wage military operations against ISIS.

"The crisis in today's Iraq is not a result of a natural disaster — it is a direct consequence of earlier U.S. military interventions. Much of the destruction in Iraq's infrastructure, state legitimacy and national identity was either caused directly by the United States or happened under its watch. —Raed Jarrar, American Friends Service Committee

The U.S. is also funneling arms into Iraq. Obama stated earlier this week that the U.S. has "urgently provided additional arms and assistance to Iraqi forces, including Kurdish and Iraqi security forces who are fighting on the front lines." And the U.S. recently announced that, with former Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki out of the picture, military and economic aid to Iraq will be increased.

However, as the Associated Press reports, the public information about U.S. military attacks on Iraq by ground and air remain "thin." It is not clear which military branches are carrying out the air strikes, and U.S. Central Command is refusing to publicly disclose which bases are being used to launch attacks. The U.S. also is not disclosing information about civilians and combatants in Iraq killed and wounded in the attacks. Furthermore, an estimated thousands of U.S. military and security contractors remain in Iraq, their total number not publicly known.

Furthermore, weeks into the attacks, the stated aims of the air strikes are unclear and shifting. The Obama administration's explanations for the strikes have ranged from the protection of U.S. military personnel to halting the advance of ISIS to assisting refugees. In a speech delivered Wednesday about the beheading of U.S. journalist James Foley, Obama indicated that the U.S. and world must eradicate ISIS, referring to them as a "cancer" that needs to be extracted.

Journalist and Middle East expert Patrick Cockburn argues that the U.S. is in fact pursuing contradictory policies towards ISIS throughout the region:

There are extraordinary elements in the present U.S. policy in Iraq and Syria that are attracting surprisingly little attention. In Iraq, the U.S. is carrying out air strikes and sending in advisers and trainers to help beat back the advance of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (better known as ISIS) on the Kurdish capital, Erbil. The U.S. would presumably do the same if ISIS surrounds or attacks Baghdad. But in Syria, Washington’s policy is the exact opposite: there the main opponent of ISIS is the Syrian government and the Syrian Kurds in their northern enclaves. Both are under attack from ISIS, which has taken about a third of the country, including most of its oil and gas production facilities.

But U.S., Western European, Saudi, and Arab Gulf policy is to overthrow President Bashar al-Assad, which happens to be the policy of ISIS and other jihadis in Syria. If Assad goes, then ISIS will be the beneficiary, since it is either defeating or absorbing the rest of the Syrian armed opposition.

According to Raed Jarrar, policy impact coordinator for the American Friends Service Committee, the expansion of U.S. war will only fuel Iraq's humanitarian crisis. He writes:

The United States, for its part, is not a charity organization, nor is it a neutral bystander. Washington is an active participant in the conflict. In addition to authorizing direct strikes, the Obama administration continues to arm the Iraqi government forces and ethnic Iraqi militias and paramilitary groups. Even since the withdrawal of U.S. forces in 2011, Washington has continued its intervention in Iraq by selectively arming and training some sides of the civil conflict. The practical implications of this policy are devastating for the future of Iraq because it increases divisions and makes it harder for Iraqis to unite. Arming Iraqi factions is also a path of dubious legality, and it is illegal under U.S. and international law to arm and train groups implicated in gross human rights violations.

The crisis in today's Iraq is not a result of a natural disaster — it is a direct consequence of earlier U.S. military interventions. Much of the destruction in Iraq's infrastructure, state legitimacy and national identity was either caused directly by the United States or happened under its watch. The United States also played a lead role in installing the current ethno-sectarian political system that continues to be one of the most corrupt and dysfunctional in the world.


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