News / Middle East

Iraq Launches Airstrikes Against Islamist Forces

A militant standing in front of a burning Iraqi Army Humvee in Tikrit, Iraq, June 12, 2014.
A militant standing in front of a burning Iraqi Army Humvee in Tikrit, Iraq, June 12, 2014.
Henry Ridgwell
Iraqi government forces carried out airstrikes Thursday against fighters from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. The militant group seized several cities from the Iraqi army this week in a move that has caused alarm across the world. Analysts say the militants' advance has called into question the future of the Iraqi state.
 
Fighters from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) are within 100 kilometers of Baghdad, having taken control of several towns and cities in northern Iraq in recent days.  Iraqi army units have abandoned their posts and fled ahead of the militants’ advance.

But speaking Thursday, Iraq’s foreign minister, Hoshyar Zebari, insisted that ISIL forces had been halted north of the capital.

"The situation started to be reversed and the Iraqi security forces have managed to re-organize and to push them back," said Zebari.

ISIL grew out of al-Qaida in Iraq.  Their stated aim is to create a single Sunni Islamic state across the region.

In an audio recording Thursday, ISIL spokesman Abu Mohammed al-Adnani called for fighters to continue the march to Baghdad.

They are a battle-hardened force, says Shiraz Maher of the International Center for the Study of Radicalization at Kings College London.

“It’s really their experience in Syria that has allowed them to generate this head of steam.  Foreign fighters came from all over the world to join that conflict. Overwhelmingly they joined ISIL. Now that group has enjoyed a revival in terms of men, money and munitions," said Maher.

Tens of thousands of Iraqi troops abandoned their posts and fled.  Loyalty to Baghdad and to the Iraqi state is weak, says Shiraz Maher.

“The resistance that we should expect to see that will come about in Iraq is going to be from other local militias, other sectarian groupings, the Shias for example,"he said.

There was no shortage of civilian volunteers in Baghdad and other cities Thursday, heeding the government’s call to fight ISIL and chanting "death to terrorists."

Kurdish troops known as Peshmerga from the autonomous northern region of Kurdistan have taken up positions abandoned by the regular Iraqi army. But the Kurds face a dilemma, says Ranj Alaaldin, of the London School of Economics.

“Do they want to be dragged in to a conflict which, at the moment, isn’t really theirs? This is more an Arab conflict, a Sunni-Shia conflict. We still haven’t seen a response from the Iraqi state.  Once that response happens, then I think the Kurds could assess whether they really do need to get involved," said Alaaldin.

The prospect of a Sunni-Shia regional war is growing, says Professor Jonathan Eyal of the Royal United Services Institute in London.

“An arc of conflict engaging Iraq, Syria and Lebanon, pitting Sunni against Shia Muslims with a proxy war financed by Saudi Arabia and Iran on both sides.  It is just about the worst specter that can haunt the Middle East," said Eyal.

Government forces carried out airstrikes against ISIL positions Thursday.  Baghdad’s hope is that the militants’ advance can be quickly halted.  If it fails, the consequences could be felt across the region.

You May Like

Captured IS Militants Explain Why They Fought

Fighters from Turkey, Syria tell VOA Kurdish Service what drew them to extremism, jihad More

Security Experts Split on Kenyan Barrier Wall

Experts divided on whether initiative aiming to keep out al-Shabab militants is long-awaited solution or misguided effort More

Video Philippines Wants Tourists Spending Money at New Casinos

Officials say they hope to turn Manila into the next Macau, which has long been Asia’s gambling hub More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grievingi
X
Benno Muchler
March 26, 2015 3:41 PM
Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grieving

Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Cambodian Land Grabs Threaten Traditional Communities

Indigenous communities in Cambodia's Ratanakiri province say the government’s economic land concession policy is taking away their land and traditional way of life, making many fear that their identity will soon be lost. Local authorities, though, have denied this is the case. VOA's Say Mony went to investigate and filed this report, narrated by Colin Lovett.
Video

Video US, South Korea Conduct Joint Military Exercises

The Eighth U.S. Army Division and the Eighth Republic of Korea Mechanized Infantry Division put on a well orchestrated show of force for the media this week during their joint military training exercises in South Korea. VOA’s Seoul correspondent Brian Padden was there and reports the soldiers were well disciplined both in conducting a complex live fire exercise and in staying on message with the press.
Video

Video Space Program Status Disappoints 'Last Man on the Moon'

One of the films that drew big crowds last week at the annual South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, tells the story of the last human being to stand on the moon, U.S. astronaut Eugene Cernan. It has been 42 years since Cernan returned from the moon and he laments that no one else has gone there since. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Young Filmmakers Shine Spotlight on Giving Back

A group of student filmmakers from across the United States joined President Barack Obama at the White House this month for the second annual White House Student Film Festival. Fifteen short films were officially selected from more than 1,500 entries by students aged 6 through 18. The filmmakers and their families then joined the president and a group of celebrities for a screening of their films. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video VOA Exclusive: Interview with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, during his first visit as president to Washington, gave a one-on-one interview with VOA Afghan Service reporter Said Suleiman Ashna, about his request for a change in U.S. troop levels, the threat from the Islamic State, and repairing relations with the United States and Pakistan. The interview was held at Blair House, late Sunday, in Pashto.
Video

Video California Science Center Tells Story of Dead Sea Scrolls

The ancient manuscripts were uncovered in the mid-20th century, and they are still yielding clues about life and religious beliefs in ancient Israel. As VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports, an exhibit in Los Angeles shows how modern science is bringing the history of these ancient documents to life.
Video

Video Angelina Jolie Takes Another Bold Step

Hollywood actress and filmmaker Angelina Jolie has revealed she had her ovaries and fallopian tubes removed to lower her odds of getting cancer. Doctors say the huge publicity over her decision will help raise awareness about the importance of cancer screening. VOA’s George Putic has more

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More