Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga fighters look on as smoke billows from the town of Makhmur on Aug. 9 during clashes with Islamic State (IS) militants. (Safin Hamed / AFP)
Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga fighters take position on the front line on Aug. 9 in Makhmur, some 50 km south of Arbil, the capital of the autonomous Kurdish region of northern Iraq where clashes with Islamic State (IS) militants are ongoing. (Safin Hamed / AFP)
Crisis in Iraq
WASHINGTON — As the U.S. continued airstrikes against the Islamic State in northern Iraq, retired Army Gen. Carter Ham said it looks as though the strikes are having an impact.
“I think the initial strikes are already having some effects,” Ham told ABC’s Martha Raddatz on Sunday. “It seems to have at least given pause to the Islamic extremists.”
However, Ham said the situation in Iraq is difficult because the Iraqi army has no government to which it can be loyal, leading to a disjointed offensive against Islamic State, also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL or ISIS.) Ham added that he agreed with President Obama that it’s up to the Iraqi government to bring stability to Iraq.
As politicians, generals and ambassadors hit the talk shows Sunday morning, U.S. Central Command announced multiple airstrikes near Irbil from both planes and drones beginning at 2:15 a.m. ET. The attacks destroyed three armed trucks and damaged two others, as well as blowing up a mortar position. The U.S. aircraft returned safely to base.
The Associated Press reported that Brig. Gen. Shirko Fatih, a senior Kurdish military official, said Sunday that his troops had gained control of two towns in northern Iraq that the Sunni militants had captured. Taking Makhmour and al-Gweir back from the Islamic State marked the Kurdish forces’ first victory in the the battle, which began in June when the militants seized Mosul.
President Obama has couched the airstrikes as a “humanitarian effort” because tens of thousands of Yazidis fled northern Iraq as Islamic State began forcing people to convert to Islam or be killed, targeting Christians and Shiite Muslims as well. There have been reports of rape, forced slavery and beheadings, as well as the destruction of ancient religious monuments in the region. The Yazidis, Kurdish-speaking people with an ancient Persian religion, have been trapped on Mount Sinjar with no food or water in temperatures soaring above 100 degrees.
Christopher Hill, who served as ambassador to Iraq, told Raddatz there needs to be a forward-looking plan to deal with Syria.
“It’s pretty clear that it’s part of the situation in Syria that has metastasized into Iraq,” he said. “I think the failure to focus on Syria, the failure to come up with a political or diplomatic way forward — after all if Bashar al-Assad were hit by a bus today, there would still be a problem in Syria because no one knows what the country will look like in the future.”
Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spoke about the region’s issues in an interview with The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg, saying that she had wanted to arm the Syrian rebels, while the president did not. Clinton said not creating a “credible fighting force” left a vacuum, adding that the “jihadists” have filled that vacuum.
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said the situation is a threat to national security, and that ISIS is continuing to make gains. He called the airstrikes “ineffective.”
“I would be launching airstrikes not only in Iraq, but in Syria against ISIL,” he told CNN’s Candy Crowley. “There is no policy, so there is no strategy, and therefor, things are going very, very badly.”
Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., said he is concerned about the extremist groups, but that it’s important to work toward a representative government in Iraq, rather than try to solve the problem militarily.
“We will not become the Iraqi Air Force,” he told Crowley. “I don’t think we can take out ISIS from a military point of view from the use of our airstrikes.”