U.S. warplanes bombed targets south-west of Iraq's capital city of Baghdad on Monday, the Pentagon confirmed, marking the beginning of an expanded war against the militant faction known as the Islamic State (aka ISIS/ISIL) promised by President Obama in a national address last week.
"The airstrike southwest of Baghdad was the first strike taken as part of our expanded efforts beyond protecting our own people and humanitarian missions to hit ISIL targets as Iraqi forces go on offense," the U.S. Central Command said in a statement.
The airstrikes come as U.S. military leaders, including Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey and Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, testify before members of Congress on Tuesday to lay out their plans to increase the military campaign against the group that operates and controls territory on both sides of the Iraq/Syria border. In his address last week, Obama said that he wants to increase training and funding to local forces aligned against ISIS, which would include the Iraqi Army on its side of the border and other—what are term "more moderate" militias—fighting against ISIS inside Syria. The president also said that we will not hesitate to bomb targets inside Syria, despite the fact that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad (himself at war with ISIS) has said any such strikes would be considered an act of aggression.
According to Agence France-Presse:
[Monday's] strike against the fighters, who were attacking Iraqi security forces, were in a different part of Iraq than those struck since President Barack Obama last month called for attacks to protect US personnel and facilities, support humanitarian efforts and bolster Iraqi security forces.
Previous American airstrikes were focused around Erbil, Mount Sinjar, Amirli and two strategic dams, all in northern or western Iraq. The US has launched a total of 162 airstrikes against Islamic State extremists, according to Central Command statistics.
Lawmakers are now considering what kind of financial support or legislative blessings to offer the president as the escalation ramps up. As the Guardian reports:
Buck McKeon, the California Republican who chairs the House armed services committee, introduced an amendment to a stopgap funding measure that would authorise the Defence Department to arm and train "appropriately vetted" Syrian rebels. Obama is seeking $500m for the measure, which the Pentagon estimates could yield over 5,000 trained Syrian anti-Isis fighters in its first year.
Attaching the training authorisation to the broader funding measure, called a continuing resolution, will likely constrain the legislative debate on the US's latest military involvement in Iraq. The continuing resolution is needed to fund the government for the first months of the fiscal year, which begins 1 October.
The House committee said in a statement that the amendment would not itself fund the training, "but does allow the defence department to submit reprogramming requests to Congress," in effect shuffling money between Pentagon accounts.
On Tuesday, a different California legislator, Adam Schiff, intends to introduce a formal authorisation authorising "all necessary and appropriate force" against Isis in Iraq and Syria, except for funding non-special operations ground forces. Schiff's measure would expire after 18 months and replace the 2002 authorisation for the fateful war to overthrow Saddam Hussein –which Obama opposed as a state senator. yet last week his administration cited as a wellspring of legal authority for the latest war.
As those machinations take place in Congress, it remains to be seen whether Obama will receieve any serious pushback from lawmakers or the American public over his decision to lead U.S. troops back into a long-term engagement in Iraq. Critics of the president's plan have spent the week since his address issuing warnings against the escalation.
Writing at Common Dreams on Monday, professor of history Lawrence Wittner, argued the situation does not demand U.S. military strength, but rather is a perfect moment for President Obama and Congress to show true global leadership by practicing restraint. According to Wittner:
The current situation provides a particularly appropriate time for the U.S. government to back off from yet another military crusade in the region. After all, ISIS is heartily disliked by a large number of nations. At the moment, it seems likely that the governments of Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Russia, and other lands would welcome the demise of ISIS and support UN action against it. Furthermore, this action need not be military. The United Nations could play an important role in halting the flow of financing and weapons to this terrorist group. The United Nations could restrict the movement of militias and foreign fighters across borders. The United Nations could resume negotiations to end the civil war in Syria. And, particularly in light of the hostility toward the United States that has developed in recent years among many Muslims, the United Nations could demand the disarmament and dismantling of ISIS with far greater effect that would similar action by the U.S. government.
And Nat Parry, an investigative journalist and author, says that when it comes to the potential bombing of Syria, President Obama and U.S. government would be in grave violation of international law if such attacks take place. In an essay that appeared on Common Dreams Tuesday morning, Parry says that, "one reason for the administration’s silence regarding the international legal basis for the possible use of force against ISIS in Syria is that none exists."
As Parry notes:
President Obama touted principles of international law in a speech last May at West Point at which he emphasized the importance of the U.S. setting the standard for upholding legal principles and international norms. “American influence is always stronger when we lead by example,” he said. “We cannot exempt ourselves from the rules that apply to everyone else.”
Now that international law is being cast aside by the United States, it is Russia who is emerging as one of the strongest critics of the threatened actions against the territorial integrity of Syria. Moscow said Thursday that air strikes against militants in Syria without a UN Security Council mandate would be an act of aggression.
“The U.S. president has spoken directly about the possibility of strikes by the U.S. armed forces against [ISIS] positions in Syria without the consent of the legitimate government,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich said.
“This step, in the absence of a UN Security Council decision, would be an act of aggression, a gross violation of international law.”