News / Middle East

    US Considers Options as Islamists Advance in Iraq

    Obama Pledges More Help for Iraqi
    X
    June 13, 2014 10:50 AM
    President Barack Obama has promised more aid to Iraq's government. But as VOA's Kent Klein reports, an al-Qaida-inspired group continues its rapid advances in Iraq, and Democrats and Republicans differed Thursday on what to do about it.
    Related video report by Kent Klein
    The United States is considering a wide range of options to respond to the Islamist extremists who are advancing across Iraq and now control much of the northern part of the country.
     
    With the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL, vowing to march to Baghdad, Iraq's armed forces have largely melted way in the face of the advance.
     
    The development is seen as an embarrassment for Washington, which has spent an estimated $25 billion on training and equipping the Iraqi military since 2003, when the U.S.-led war there began.
     
    President Barack Obama on Thursday stressed that he is not ruling out any potential response to the crisis.
     
    "I don't rule out anything because we do have a stake in making sure that these jihadists are not getting a permanent foothold in either Iraq or Syria for that matter," Obama said from the White House.
     
    But few if any ideal options exist for the U.S. president, who brought the last U.S. troops home from Iraq just two-and-a-half years ago and is reluctant to involve America in another war abroad.
     
    Drone strikes possible
     
    One option is to use drones to target the ISIL fighters, as the U.S. has done with suspected militants in other insurgency-riddled countries, such as Pakistan, Afghanistan, Yemen and Somalia.
     
    U.S. officials said Thursday that drone strikes are among the options being considered, and point out the U.S. is already flying drones above Iraq for intelligence purposes.
     
    But while drones can be effective in killing individuals, they likely could not stop a force such as ISIL and could endanger civilians, according to Stephen Zunes, a scholar of Middle Eastern politics at the University of San Francisco.
     
    "This is not just a matter of getting a few bad guys and their various hideaways. We're talking about a rebellion that has thousands of armed men that control a very large swath of territory, including some major urban areas," Zunes told VOA.
     
    Ground troops needed?
     
    Many observers say ultimately the battle against ISIL must be won with a ground offensive to retake lost territory. But White House officials have ruled out putting U.S. troops back into Iraq.
     
    In the absence of a U.S. ground offensive, another option is to provide more training, weapons and intelligence to the beleaguered forces of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.
     
    However, this carries the risk that advanced U.S. weapons would fall into the hands of ISIL extremists, as they did in Mosul and Tikrit this week. And there are questions about whether Iraqi soldiers are even willing to counter the ISIL assault, added Zunes.
     
    "You can arm and train the local government armed forces all you want, but the question is: are they willing to fight and die for the government? And unfortunately, the Maliki government has alienated so many people in the country that they don't really seem to have the popular support where enough soldiers are willing to risk their lives," he said.
     
    Iraq's Sunni Muslims have long complained that Maliki's Shi'ite-dominated government has worsened sectarian tensions by not sharing power and by cracking down on Sunni-led protests demanding reforms.
     
    Iraq army the 'first line of defense'
     
    Nonetheless, the Iraqi army remains the best option for combating the Sunni ISIL, said Andreas Krieg, an expert on transnational groups in the Middle East and a lecturer at King's College London.
     
    "The Iraqi military has, despite all the billions we invested in security sector reform, not really performed in the way we want it to perform. But the Iraqis will obviously be the first line of defense against [ISIL], so they will need to be propped up in one way or another," Krieg told VOA.
     
    Krieg said private security companies could play a role in helping train the Iraqi military. He said Western intelligence services should also focus on identifying and supporting ostensibly moderate Sunni fighters both in Iraq and in Syria, where ISIL also controls territory.
     
    As the U.S. mulls its options, ISIL leaders are threatening to advance on the capital, Baghdad. Though few analysts think the rebels can take the heavily fortified city, Krieg said it is crucial the group be stopped before it can succeed in its goal of establishing an Islamic state.

    "It is quite fragile at the moment. They don't have the fighting force to actually administer the vast territory that they have gained. So I think because they are weak right now, if we act quickly, I think something can be done. But once they consolidate their power over months to come, I think we will face a much bigger problem that we will not be able to contain," he said.
     
    While ISIL is for now focused on securing and holding territory, Krieg and other analysts warn that the emergence of a radical jihadist state in the heart of the Arab world could eventually threaten U.S. allies in the Middle East and Europe.
     
    It also means millions of Iraqis and Syrians would be forced to adhere to a strict version of Islamic law, which ISIL said on Thursday includes mandatory mosque attendance, modesty codes for women, and the amputation of hands for thieves.

    Related video by VOA's Meredith Buel:
    Islamic Militants Advance in Iraq - Civil War Possiblei
    X
    Meredith Buel
    June 13, 2014 8:30 PM
    Islamist militants in Iraq are threatening to march on Baghdad after capturing large parts of the country. Units of the Iraqi military are disintegrating and analysts say it appears the nation is heading toward a civil war. VOA correspondent Meredith Buel reports.

    You May Like

    Escalation of Media Crackdown in Turkey Heightens Concerns

    Critics see 'a new dark age' as arrests of journalists, closures of media outlets by Erdogan government mount

    Russia Boasts of Troop Buildup on Flank, Draws Flak

    Russian military moves counter to efforts to de-escalate tensions, State Department says

    Video Iraqis Primed to March on Mosul, Foreign Minister Says

    Iraqi FM Ibrahim al-Jaafari tells VOA the campaign will meet optimistic expectations, even though US officials remain cautious

    This forum has been closed.
    Comment Sorting
    Comments
         
    by: Snake Plissken
    June 13, 2014 6:11 AM
    I'm surprised this civil war took so long, Saddam Hussein's brutality was the only thing holding these arbitrary borders that were set up by the British almost 100 years ago. This is the same situation we saw in Yugoslavia after Tito died.

    Why pretend this is anything else? Without a Dictator the borders will go back to where they were for thousands of years before some idiot decided to draw a couple lines on a map a hundred years ago.

    by: raghav uchil from: navi mumbai
    June 13, 2014 5:22 AM
    American Civil war, 2nd world war,south america, north korea, vietnam, Iraq, afghanistan, Iran, syria, Ukrain, now back to Iraq... American soldier has got his hands full over the decades...

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Immigrant Delegate Marvels at Democratic Processi
    X
    Katherine Gypson
    July 27, 2016 6:21 PM
    It’s been a bitter and divisive election season – but first time Indian-American delegate Dr. Shashi Gupta headed to the Democratic National Convention with a sense of hope. VOA’s Katherine Gypson followed this immigrant with the love of U.S. politics all the way to Philadelphia.
    Video

    Video Immigrant Delegate Marvels at Democratic Process

    It’s been a bitter and divisive election season – but first time Indian-American delegate Dr. Shashi Gupta headed to the Democratic National Convention with a sense of hope. VOA’s Katherine Gypson followed this immigrant with the love of U.S. politics all the way to Philadelphia.
    Video

    Video A Life of Fighting Back: Hillary Clinton Shatters Glass Ceiling

    Hillary Clinton made history Thursday, overcoming personal and political setbacks to become the first woman to win the presidential nomination of a major U.S. political party. If she wins in November, she will go from “first lady” to U.S. Senator from New York, to Secretary of State, to “Madam President.” Polls show Clinton is both beloved and despised. White House Correspondent Cindy Saine takes a look at the life of the woman both supporters and detractors agree is a fighter for the ages.
    Video

    Video Dutch Entrepreneurs Turn Rainwater Into Beer

    June has been recorded as one of the wettest months in more than a century in many parts of Europe. To a group of entrepreneurs in Amsterdam the rain came as a blessing, as they used the extra water to brew beer. Serginho Roosblad has more to the story.
    Video

    Video First Time Delegate’s First Day Frustrations

    With thousands of people filling the streets of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania for the 2016 Democratic National Convention, VOA’s Kane Farabaugh narrowed in on one delegate as she made her first trip to a national party convention. It was a day that was anything but routine for this United States military veteran.
    Video

    Video Commerce Thrives on US-Mexico Border

    At the Democratic Convention in Philadelphia this week, the party’s presumptive presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton, is expected to attack proposals made by her opponent, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. Last Friday, President Barack Obama hosted his Mexican counterpart, President Enrique Peña Nieto, to underscore the good relations between the two countries. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Tucson.
    Video

    Video Film Helps Save Ethiopian Children Thought to be Cursed

    'Omo Child' looks at effort of African man to stop killings of ‘mingi’ children
    Video

    Video London’s Financial Crown at Risk as Rivals Eye Brexit Opportunities

    By most measures, London rivals New York as the only true global financial center. But Britain’s vote to leave the European Union – so-called ‘Brexit’ – means the city could lose its right to sell services tariff-free across the bloc, risking its position as Europe’s financial headquarters. Already some banks have said they may shift operations to the mainland. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
    Video

    Video Recycling Lifeline for Lebanon’s Last Glassblowers

    In a small Lebanese coastal town, one family is preserving a craft that stretches back millennia. The art of glass blowing was developed by Phoenicians in the region, and the Khalifehs say they are the only ones keeping the skill alive in Lebanon. But despite teaming up with an eco-entrepreneur and receiving an unexpected boost from the country’s recent trash crisis the future remains uncertain. John Owens reports from Sarafand.
    Video

    Video Migrants Continue to Risk Lives Crossing US Border from Mexico

    In his speech Thursday before the Republican National Convention, the party’s presidential candidate, Donald Trump, reiterated his proposal to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border if elected. Polls show a large percentage of Americans support better control of the nation's southwestern border, but as VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from the border town of Nogales in the Mexican state of Sonora, the situation faced by people trying to cross the border is already daunting.
    Video

    Video In State of Emergency, Turkey’s Erdogan Focuses on Spiritual Movement

    The state of emergency that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has declared is giving him even more power to expand a purge that has seen an estimated 60,000 people either arrested or suspended from their jobs. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports from Istanbul.
    Video

    Video Calm the Waters: US Doubles Down Diplomatic Efforts in ASEAN Meetings

    The United States is redoubling diplomatic efforts and looking to upcoming regional meetings to calm the waters after an international tribunal invalidated the legal basis of Beijing's extensive claims in the South China Sea. VOA State Department correspondent Nike Ching has the story.
    Video

    Video Scientists in Poland Race to Save Honeybees

    Honeybees are in danger worldwide. Causes of what's known as colony collapse disorder range from pesticides and loss of habitat to infections. But scientists in Poland say they are on track to finding a cure for one of the diseases. VOA’s George Putic reports.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora