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

Video VOA EXCLUSIVE: Iraq President Vows to Fight IS 'Until They Are Killed or We Die'

In wide-ranging interview with VOA Persian service reporter, Fuad Masum describes conflict as new type of fight that will take time to win More

Video Russian Anti-Corruption Campaigner Slams Putin’s Crackdown on Dissent

In interview with VOA Alexei Navalny says he believes new law against 'undesirable NGOs' part of move to keep Russian president in power More

Video On The Scene: In Ethiopia, 'Are You a Journalist?' Is a Loaded Question

VOA's Anita Powell describes the difficulties faced by reporters in fully conveying the story in a country where people are reticent to share their true opinions More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Expelled from Pakistan, Afghan Refugees Return to Increased Hardshipi
X
Ayesha Tanzeem
May 28, 2015 6:48 PM
Undocumented refugees returning to Afghanistan from Pakistan have no jobs, no support system, and no home return to, and international aid agencies say they and the government are overwhelmed and under-resourced. Ayesha Tanzeem has more from Kabul.
Video

Video Expelled from Pakistan, Afghan Refugees Return to Increased Hardship

Undocumented refugees returning to Afghanistan from Pakistan have no jobs, no support system, and no home return to, and international aid agencies say they and the government are overwhelmed and under-resourced. Ayesha Tanzeem has more from Kabul.
Video

Video Britain Makes Controversial Move to Crack Down on Extremism

Britain is moving to tighten controls on extremist rhetoric, even when it does not incite violence or hatred -- a move that some are concerned might unduly restrict basic freedoms. It is an issue many countries are grappling with as extremist groups gain power in the Middle East, fueled in part by donations and fighters from the West. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video Floodwaters Recede in Houston, but Rain Continues

Many parts of Texas are recovering from one of the worst natural disasters to hit the southwestern state. Heavy rains on Monday and early Tuesday caused rivers to swell in eastern and central Texas, washing away homes and killing at least 13 people. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Houston, floodwaters are receding slowly in the country's fourth-largest city, and there likely is to be more rain in the coming days.
Video

Video 3D Printer Makes Replica of Iconic Sports Car

Cars with parts made by 3D printers are already on the road, but engineers are still learning about this new technology. While testing the possibility of printing an entire car, researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy recently created an electric-powered replica of an iconic sports roadster. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Al-Shabab Recruitment Drive Still on In Kenya

The al-Shabab militants that have long battled for control of Somalia also have recruited thousands of young people in Kenya, leaving many families disconsolate. Mohammed Yusuf recently visited the Kenyan town of Isiolo, and met with relatives of those recruited, as well as a many who have helped with the recruiting.
Video

Video US Voters Seek Answers From Presidential Candidates on IS Gains

The growth of the Islamic State militant group in Iraq and Syria comes as the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign kicks off in the Midwest state of Iowa.   As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, voters want to know how the candidates would handle recent militant gains in the Middle East.
Video

Video A Small Oasis on Kabul's Outskirts Provides Relief From Security Tensions

When people in Kabul want to get away from the city and relax, many choose Qargha Lake, a small resort on the outskirts of Kabul. Ayesha Tanzeem visited and talked with people about the precious oasis.
Video

Video Film Festival Looks at Indigenous Peoples, Culture Conflict

A recent Los Angeles film festival highlighted the plight of people caught between two cultures. Mike O'Sullivan has more on the the Garifuna International Film Festival, a Los Angeles forum created by a woman from Central America who wants the world to know more about her culture.
Video

Video Kenyans Lament Losing Sons to al-Shabab

There is agony, fear and lost hope in the Kenyan town of Isiolo, a key target of a new al-Shabab recruitment drive. VOA's Mohammed Yusuf visits Isiolo to speak with families and at least one man who says he was a recruiter.
Video

Video Scientists Say Plankton More Important Than Previously Thought

Tiny ocean creatures called plankton are mostly thought of as food for whales and other large marine animals, but a four-year global study discovered, among other things, that plankton are a major source of oxygen on our planet. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Kenya’s Capital Sees Rise in Shisha Parlors

In Kenya, the smoking of shisha, a type of flavored tobacco, is the latest craze. Patrons are flocking to shisha parlors to smoke and socialize. But the practice can be addictive and harmful, though many dabblers may not realize the dangers, according to a new review. Lenny Ruvaga has more on the story for VOA from Nairobi, Kenya.
Video

Video Iowa Family's Sacrifice Shaped US Military Service for Generations

Few places in America have experienced war like Waterloo. This small town in the Midwest state of Iowa became famous during World War II not for what it accomplished, but what it lost. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, the legacy of one family’s sacrifice is still a reminder today of the real cost of war for all families on the homefront.

VOA Blogs