Pentagon Denies Bombing Iraq as Obama Considers Attacking ISIS
The Pentagon on Thursday vehemently denied Kurdish reports that US forces had begun bombing Islamist militants in Iraq, as President Barack Obama said he was considering renewed military action in the war-torn nation.
Rear Admiral John Kirby, spokesman for Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, tweeted that accounts published in the New York Times and elsewhere citing Kurdish television reports of US air strikes targeting fighters from the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) were “completely false.”
“No such action taken,” Kirby tweeted.
The Kurdish reports said the air strikes targeted ISIS fighters who had seized the Iraqi towns of Gwer and Mahmour.
Earlier on Thursday, administration aides told reporters that President Barack Obama was considering dropping bombs, humanitarian supplies, or both, over Iraq, specifically at or near Mount Sinjar, where some 40,000 members of Iraq’s Yazidi minority are surrounded by ISIS fighters, with some beginning to die from thirst.
On Monday, Yazidis trapped on the mountaintop texted that seven children had died, while on Tuesday, 10 children and an elderly woman reportedly perished.
The Yazidi, an ancient and secretive people of Kurdish origin, had fled to the mountaintop after ISIS captured Sinjar and nearby villages, causing many residents to flee in terror.
Obama administration officials have been closely following events in Sinjar and are considering acting before many more refugees die on the mountain.
“We could target the [ISIS] elements that are besieging the base of the mountain,” the unnamed administration official told the New York Times. The official added that a decision from the president was “imminent.”
On Thursday, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said the administration was very concerned about ISIS’s “cold and calculated” attacks on religious minorities in Iraq.
“These actions have exacerbated an already dire crisis, and the situation is nearing a humanitarian catastrophe,” Earnest told reporters. ISIS’s brutal advance, he said, “demonstrates a callous disregard for human rights and is deeply disturbing.”
As ISIS has massively expanded its area of control, which now includes much of western and much of northern Iraq, as well as much of northern Syria and even parts of Lebanon, it has slaughtered and terrorized countless innocent civilians and threatened to kill Christians and other religious minorities who do not convert to Islam, pay a tax or leave.
Kurdish forces, who have long established an autonomous zone in northern Iraq, have asked the United States for assistance fighting off ISIS advances. On Thursday, the Islamists reportedly captured Mosul dam, Iraq’s largest, from Kurdish peshmerga fighters, sparking fears the militants could open the dam’s floodgates and threaten Mosul and even Baghdad, 280 miles (455 km) south along the Tigris River.
In the United States, Republican lawmakers have blasted Obama, who like many Americans is wary of any new US military action in Iraq, for failing to act against ISIS.
“Everybody in [Obama’s] national security team, including the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, ought to be replaced,” Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) said in June. “It’s a colossal failure of American security policy.”
Other GOP lawmakers have warned that failure to confront ISIS, which seeks to establish an Islamic caliphate, or theocratic super-state, in the Middle East, could result in another major terrorist attack on the United States.
Under largely false pretenses involving non-existent weapons of mass destruction, the United States and a coalition of allies invaded Iraq and occupied the country of 35 million from 2003 until the end of 2011. The US toppled the regime of longtime brutal dictator Saddam Hussein but ushered in an era of horrific violence and sectarian bloodshed that has claimed at least 127,000 lives, mostly innocent civilians.
The US also installed a shaky democracy in Iraq, but international human rights groups cite many grave violations committed by the corrupt, Shi’ite-dominated Nouri al-Maliki regime, including rape, torture, death squad murders and genocidal persecution of Christians, Jews and other religious minorities.