Middle East Eye – 8.8.2014 – In a televised speech late last night, Obama said that ‘America is coming to help’ to fight the Islamic State’s siege of Mount Sinjar
US President Barack Obama authorised targeted air strikes Thursday to protect American personnel in the northern Iraqi city of Erbil and support forces in Iraq as they fight to break the siege of Mount Sinjar, on which roughly thousands of Yazidi civilians have sought refuge from Islamic State militants.
“Today America is coming to help,” Obama said during a televised late night speech. “When the lives of American citizens are at risk we will take action, that’s my responsibility as Commander in Chief, and when many thousands of innocent civilians are faced with the danger of being wiped out, and we have the capacity to do something about it, we will take action.”
The US will launch air strikes on Islamic State convoys should they move on Erbil, the Iraqi Kurdish capital, Obama said.
Washington’s consulate in the city is home to both civilians and diplomats, as well as American military personnel that advise Iraqi forces.
“We intend to stay vigilant and take action if these terrorist forces threaten our personnel or facilities anywhere in Iraq.”
In addition to targeted air strikes to thwart any potential advance on the Iraqi Kurdish capital, the U.S. has begun operations to help civilians holed up on Mount Sinjar at the request of the Iraqi government.
The Islamic State was formerly known as ISIL.
The American President said that Islamic State militants have called for the “systematic destruction of the entire Yazidi people, which would constitute genocide,” and America must act to stop the potential slaughter.
“When we have a mandate to help, in this case a request from the Iraqi government, and when we have the unique capabilities to help avert a massacre, then I believe the United States of America cannot turn a blind eye,” he said. “We can act carefully and responsibly to prevent a potential act of genocide.”
US Secretary of State John Kerry said in a statement released to the press that the Islamic State’s attacks on innocent civilians, including Yazidi and Christian minority groups “and its grotesque and targeted acts of violence bear all the warning signs and hallmarks of genocide.”
“IS is offering nothing to anyone except chaos, nihilism, and ruthless thuggery. With a gut-wrenching humanitarian crisis unfolding, and the rolls of the starving and sick growing daily, there’s not a minute to waste,” he added.
American aircraft have already begun humanitarian airdrops of food and water, Obama announced during Thursday night’s speech.
He insisted that American combat troops will not be deployed to Iraq, “because there is no American military solution to the larger crisis in Iraq.”
John Kerry: ‘Wake-up call’
Earlier, in New York, the United Nations Security Council urged world powers “to support the government and the people of Iraq and to do all it can to help alleviate the suffering of the population.”
Iraqi Ambassador Ali al-Hakim said the meeting focused on the need for urgent relief efforts to help civilians fleeing the violence. Separately, French President Francois Hollande’s office said “France was available to support forces engaged in this battle.”
Obama came to office determined to end US military involvement in Iraq and in his first term oversaw the withdrawal of the huge ground force deployed there since the 2003 American invasion.
But recent rapid gains by IS, a successor group to Al-Qaeda’s former Iraqi and Syrian operations, compelled him to send military advisors back to Baghdad to evaluate the deteriorating situation.
The extremists are at war with Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki’s mainly Shiite government forces and with the peshmerga forces of the Kurdish autonomous region of the country.
In late June, IS proclaimed a “caliphate” straddling rebel-held areas of Syria and Iraq and seized the major city of Mosul. In recent days, it has taken over towns formerly populated by Christians and Yazidis.
Iraqi religious leaders say the militants have forced 100,000 Iraqi Christians to flee and have occupied churches, removing crosses and destroying manuscripts.
Christian Qaraqosh was among the towns taken over by militants, they told AFP.
US Secretary of State John Kerry, in a strongly worded statement, accused IS of waging a “campaign of terror against the innocent, including Yazidi and Christian minorities, and its grotesque and targeted acts of violence bear all the warning signs and hallmarks of genocide.
“For anyone who needed a wake-up call, this is it.”
Republican senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham, however, accused Obama of not going far enough. “We need a strategic approach, not just a humanitarian one. A policy of containment will not work against ISIS (IS),” they said in a statement.
Those who had fled described the militant onslaught.
“I heard some gunshots last night and, when I looked outside, I saw a military convoy from the Islamic State shouting ‘Allahu Akbar’,” said Boutros Sargon, a refugee who was reached by phone in Arbil.
Several thousand Yazidis, members of an ancient pre-Muslim religious minority, are stranded on high ground after being driven out of their home town of Sinjar by IS fighters.
Fares Sinjari Abu Ivan, a Yazidi beekeeper who fled with his 80-year-old mother to the barren mountains, told AFP by phone that some groups had attempted to flee but experienced mixed fortunes.
“We have spoken to some who made it to Turkey but in their flight they encountered Daash (Islamic State) fighters who cut the road. Some fled, some were killed and others came back to the mountain.”
Turkish officials said up to 800 displaced Sinjaris made their own way to Turkey, while the PKK Kurdish separatist group said it had evacuated several families after opening a safe passage to Syria. The Islamic State boasted of its latest victories, declaring: “We are pleased to announce to the Islamic nation a new liberation in Nineveh province, teaching the secular Kurds a lesson.”