With the Kurds outgunned, US airstrikes in Iraq may be inevitable (or may have already started)

One of the best reporters in Iraq right now is Mitchell Prothero with McClatchy, and if you’re interested in following events there I’d recommend reading his stuff regularly and following him on twitter: @mitchprothero. He did a great piece earlier today on Kurdish preparations for an IS push toward Irbil, the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan. They’ve set up to defend a village called Kalak, along the road from Mosul to Irbil, but the fact is that while the Peshmerga are able fighters, they’re heavily outgunned thanks to the stockpiles of US-supplied arms that IS was able to pick up when the Iraqi army dropped everything and ran out of Mosul. IS continued its advance today, capturing four northern towns including Qaraqosh, the largest Christian-only town in Iraq, population 50,000. If they take Irbil, it will be a humanitarian catastrophe to dwarf anything they’ve managed to cause so far, since most of the people they’ve been displacing have been running to Kurdish-controlled parts of Iraq, and they really don’t have anyplace else to run if the Kurds are defeated. It will also give IS a clear path to Kirkuk, where they can seize control of Iraq’s fourth (I think?) largest oil field. In technical terms, if Irbil falls to IS it will be Very Bad.

It seems that some kind of response is finally being made, though the reporting is far from clear as to what exactly is happening. IS positions are now being being hit with airstrikes, but nobody seems to want to claim responsibility for conducting them. The NY Times is citing Iraqi and Kurdish forces who say that the US is responsible, but the Pentagon has denied it and suggested that it could be Turkey or the Iraqis themselves. Turkey is also denying launching any airstrikes, which leaves the Iraqis, but they’re the ones saying it’s the US and plus it’s not clear that the Iraqis have all that capable an air force, particularly not when it comes to bombing infantry at night (of course, there’s no real way to tell if they’re actually hitting anything, so we shouldn’t rule anything out just yet). We are at least, according to Spencer Ackerman, consulting with the Iraqis about an air campaign, and about arranging supply drops for the folks who are stranded in the mountains around Sinjar. The White House is maintaining that any military aid will have to come after Baghdad makes the political reforms it needs to make to quell Sunni discontent (i.e., Maliki has to go), but with IS now approaching Irbil-Kirkuk and the parties in Baghdad still unable to agree on another candidate for PM, that timetable may no longer be realistic.

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