Broadening the scope of the United States latest military assault on Iraq, officials confirmed on Sunday that a new round of attacks have been launched throughout the country targeting fighters affiliated with the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
Speaking at a press conference with Georgia Defense Minister Irakli Alasania, U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel confirmed that airstrikes were launched Friday and Saturday around the Haditha Dam complex in the western part of the country allegedly to prevent the group from gaining control of or destroying the dam.
The New York Times reports, "soldiers and officers in the area around the Haditha Dam said that United States warplanes carried out airstrikes on several towns beginning around 11 p.m. on Saturday, striking what were described as ISIS positions in the towns of Rawa and Ana, as well as in Barwana, which is about nine miles from the dam."
With no mention of potential civilian casualties, Iraqi officers told the Times that the strikes continued Sunday morning targeting houses were ISIS fighters were reportedly gathering while the Iraqi military, including Special Forces units, were attacking the town from two sides with artillery and mortar fire.
In a Pentagon press statement, press secretary Rear Admiral John Kirby defended the strikes saying that the "potential loss of control of the dam or a catastrophic failure of the dam—and the flooding that might result—would have threatened U.S. personnel and facilities in and around Baghdad, as well as thousands of Iraqi citizens."
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Times reporter Helene Cooper notes that this rationale of protecting American citizens and facilities grants the White House "wide latitude" in their campaign against ISIS forces throughout the region.
The U.S. military also launched a combination assault, using both warplanes and armed drones, on the city of Irbil Friday and Saturday. According to a statement by U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM), the strikes destroyed four ISIS Humvees, one ISIS armored personnel carrier and two ISIS trucks.
The U.S. military has now conducted roughly 135 strikes in Iraq since operations against ISIS began this spring.
Across the border, Syrian forces launched an aerial bombardment on an ISIS-run bakery in Raqqa city. Twenty civilians were killed in the attack, including three children, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
The latest strikes coincide with a new report by The Intercept's Cora Currier, which highlights CENTCOM's recent practice of posting declassified video footage to YouTube of U.S. bombs striking Iraqi targets. The videos, Currier notes, is part of an attempt by the White House to appear transparent while concurrently using the "cleanness" of the airstrikes to drum up support for the U.S. military's renewed assault.
"But these shots of grainy slow-motion explosions in Iraq are more propaganda than transparency," Currier writes. "For the moment, the Iraq strikes seem clean. The videos show a truck. Boom. No boots on the ground. No messy invasion."
However, she adds: "If the U.S. continues the bombardment [...] And if there are civilians killed, its unlikely CENTCOM will tweet about the videos."