Al-Jazeerah: Cross-Cultural Understanding
News, August 2014
ISIS Captures Mosul Dam, US Bombing Kills 10 Iraqis Fighters, Aid Dropped on Yazidi Refugees, August 9, 2014
Islamic State Fighters Repairing Mosul Dam, Kurds in Rush to Arms
By Michael Georgy
BAGHDAD Sat Aug 9, 2014 10:12am EDT
Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) fighters who seized Iraq's biggest dam in an offensive that has caused international consternation have brought in engineers for repairs, witnesses said on Saturday, as nervous Kurds stocked up on arms to defend their enclave nearby.
The ISIS fighters have captured wide swathes of northern Iraq since June, executing non-Sunni Muslim captives, displacing tens of thousands of people and drawing the first U.S. air strikes in the region since Washington withdrew troops in 2011.
After routing Kurdish forces this week, Islamic State fighters are just 30 minutes' drive from Arbil, the Kurdish regional capital which up to now has been spared the sectarian bloodshed that has scarred other parts of Iraq for a decade (following the US-UK invasion).
Employees of foreign oil firms in Arbil were flying out. Kurds were snapping up AK-47 assault rifles in arms markets for fear of imminent attack, although these had been ineffective against the superior firepower of the Islamic State fighters.
Given the Islamic State threat, a source in the Kurdistan Regional Government said it had received extra supplies of heavy weaponry from the Baghdad federal government "and other governments" in the past few days, but declined to elaborate.
An engineer at Mosul dam told Reuters that Islamic State fighters had brought in engineers to repair an emergency power line to the city, Iraq's biggest in the north, that had been cut off four days ago, causing power outages and water shortages.
"They are gathering people to work at the dam," he said.
A dam administrator said that militants were putting up the trademark Islamic State black flags and patrolling with flatbed trucks mounted with machineguns to protect the facility they seized from Kurdish forces earlier this week.
The Islamic State, comprised mainly of Arabs and foreign fighters who want to reshape the map of the Middle East, pose the biggest threat to Iraq, a major oil exporter, since Saddam Hussein was toppled by a U.S.-led invasion in 2003.
The ISIS fighters first arrived in northern Iraq in June from Syria where they have captured wide tracts of territory in that country's civil war.
Almost unopposed by U.S.-trained Iraqi government forces who fled by the thousands, the insurgents swept through the region and have threatened to march on Baghdad with Iraqi military tanks, armored personnel carriers and machineguns they seized.
In their latest offensive, they also grabbed a fifth oilfield that will help them fund operations, in addition to several towns and the dam, which could allow them to flood cities and cut off vital water and electricity supplies.
US BOMBS AND SUPPLIES
The U.S. Defense Department said two F/A-18 warplanes from an aircraft carrier in the Gulf had dropped laser-guided 500-pound bombs on Islamic State artillery batteries. Other air strikes targeted mortar positions and an Islamic State convoy.
U.S. President Barack Obama said the action was needed to halt the Islamist advance, protect Americans in the region as well as hundreds of thousands of Christians and members of other religious minorities who have fled for their lives.
U.S. military aircraft dropped relief supplies to members of the ancient Yazidi sect, tens of thousands of whom have collected on a desert mountaintop seeking shelter from insurgents who had ordered them to convert or die.
An official at Mosul's morgue told Reuters that Islamic State fighters brought the corpses of ten comrades who were killed by a U.S. airstrike at the Kurdish border.
The Islamic State's campaign has returned Iraq to levels of violence not seen since a civil war peaked in 2006-2007 during the U.S. occupation.
Just south of Baghdad in the town of Madaen, gunmen killed a government-backed Sunni militiaman opposed to the Islamic State. His family was also killed, police and medical sources said.
On the southern outskirts of the capital in the town of Uwerij, authorities found the bodies of four men who had been blindfolded and shot in the head execution-style, police said.
The territorial gains of Islamic State, who also control a third of Syria and have fought this past week inside Lebanon, has unnerved the Middle East and threatens to tear apart Iraq, a country split between mostly Shi'is, Sunnis, and Kurds.
Attention has focused on the plight of Yazidis, Christians, and other minority groups in northern Iraq, one of the most demographically diverse parts of the Middle East for centuries.
In Washington, the Pentagon said planes dropped additional supplies, bringing the total to 36,224 ready-to-eat meals and 6,822 gallons of drinking water, for threatened civilians near Sinjar, home of the Yazidis. They are ethnic Kurds who practice an ancient faith related to Zoroastrianism.
WEAPONS AND CASH
The semi-autonomous Kurdish region has until now been the only part of Iraq to survive the past decade of civil war without a serious security threat.
Its vaunted "peshmerga" fighters - those who "confront death" - also controlled wide stretches of territory outside the autonomous zone, which served as sanctuary for fleeing Christians and other minorities when Islamic State fighters stormed into the region last month.
But the past week saw the Peshmerga crumble in the face of Islamic State fighters, who have heavy weapons seized from fleeing Iraqi troops and are flush with cash looted from banks.
However, oil production from Iraqi Kurdistan -- estimated at some 360,000 barrels per day in June -- remained unaffected by the Islamic State incursions, its Ministry of Natural Resources said on Saturday.
A U.N. relief spokesman said some 200,000 people fleeing the Islamists' advance had reached the town of Dohuk on the Tigris River in Iraqi Kurdistan. Tens of thousands had fled further north to the Turkish border, Turkish officials said.
Iraqi Prime Minister Nour al-Maliki is a Shi'i Islamist accused by opponents of fuelling the Sunni insurgency by running an authoritarian sectarian state.
He has refused to step aside to break a stalemate since elections in April, defying pressure from Washington and Tehran.
Obama, who brought U.S. troops home from Iraq in 2011 to fulfill a campaign pledge, insisted he would not commit ground forces against Islamic State and had no intention of letting the United States "get dragged into fighting another war in Iraq".
U.S. warplanes bomb Islamic State militants in Iraq
WASHINGTON, August 8, 2014 (Xinhua) --
Nine hours after U.S. President Barack Obama authorized targeted airstrikes against forces of Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), U.S. warplanes bombed their positions in two rounds of strikes near the northern Iraqi city of Erbil on Friday.
The Pentagon said the U.S. military expanded its campaign against the Islamist militants, with fighter jets and drones conducting two additional airstrikes near Erbil, capital of Iraq's autonomous Kurdistan region.
The second round of airstrikes "successfully eliminated" the ISIS fighters and destroyed "a stationary ISIS convoy of seven vehicles" and mortar positions being used by the extremist group to shell Kurdish forces, the Pentagon said in a statement released Friday afternoon.
"The aircraft executed two planned passes. On both runs, each aircraft dropped one laser guided bomb making a total of eight bombs dropped on target neutralizing the mortar and convoy," it said.
The new round of attacks came hours after the dropping of two 500-pound laser-guided bombs near Erbil.
The first strikes took place at 6:45 a.m. EDT (1045 GMT), when two F/A-18 aircraft from an aircraft carrier in the Gulf dropped 500-pound laser-guided bombs on a mobile artillery piece near Erbil, Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby said Friday morning, adding that "ISIS was using this artillery to shell Kurdish forces defending Erbil where U.S. personnel are located."
The decision to start the strikes was made by Army General Lloyd Austin III, commander of U.S. Central Command, under authorization granted him by the commander in chief, Kirby said in statement.
"As the president made clear, the United States military will continue to take direct action against ISIS when they threaten our personnel and facilities," he said.
Obama, in a late night television address to the nation on Thursday, said he authorized two operations in Iraq -- "targeted airstrikes to protect our American personnel, and a humanitarian effort to help save thousands of Iraqi civilians who are trapped on a mountain without food and water and facing almost certain death."
Obama also made clear that he "will not allow the United States to drag into fighting another war in Iraq." "Even as we support Iraqis as they take the fight to these terrorists, American combat troops will not be returning to fight in Iraq," he said.
Amid concerns about the first U.S. airstrikes on Iraq since America withdraw all troops in 2011, Obama discussed the Iraq crisis with Jordanian King Abdullah II during a phone call Friday afternoon.
They exchanged opinions on the issue of the urgency of providing humanitarian assistance to the people of Iraq, the risks to the region from the ISIS and other extremist groups, and the importance of supporting an inclusive Iraqi political process.
Also on Friday, U.S. Vice President Biden called Iraqi President Fuad Masum to discuss U.S. military operations in Iraq and the ongoing government formation process in Baghdad, the White House said.
Biden reiterated Obama's commitment to assist and protect innocent Iraqi civilians trapped on Mount Sinjar and bolster Iraq' s ability to take the fight to ISIS. He emphasized the importance of a forming a new government on the constitutional timeline, including a national program that can help consolidate national forces against ISIS.
Since the rising of the Iraq crisis, Obama and other U.S. senior officials insisted the air campaign would not amount to another full-scale U.S. military engagement in embattled Iraq, and ruled out putting U.S. boots on the ground, aside from a few hundred U.S. military advisors that the president sent in June.
Despite promises from Obama not to use U.S. combat troops, any type of U.S. involvement in Iraq, even if just from the air, is expected to elicit concern from critics who fret an air campaign could be the first action that will suck the U.S. into yet another major Middle East conflict.
Experts said the mayhem has put Obama in a sticky position. After more than a decade of wars in the Middle East, trillions of taxpayer dollars spent and the deaths of nearly 5,000 U.S. troops, war-weary Americans are wary of more involvement in the volatile region.
And some experts said that scenario is unlikely, at least during the current administration, as Obama is concerned about his legacy at this later stage of his presidency and wants to be known as the leader who ended the war in Iraq.
Air raids without a ground contingent would not be very effective, and would have to be accompanied by Iraqi forces ready to stand and fight, the experts said.
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