Obama to Iraq: ‘America Is Coming to Help’

President Obama addressed the nation on a U.S. humanitarian operation conducted Thursday.

Iraqi Yazidi women who fled the violence in the northern Iraqi town of Sinjar, sit at a school where they are taking shelter in the Kurdish city of Dohuk in Iraq's autonomous Kurdistan region, on Aug. 5.
National Journal
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Matt Berman, Kaveh Waddell and Marina Koren
Aug. 7, 2014, 1:54 p.m.

The United States has au­thor­ized the use of tar­geted mil­it­ary air­strikes and car­ried out a hu­man­it­ari­an op­er­a­tion in north­ern Ir­aq, Pres­id­ent Obama said Thursday night. 

The aid mis­sion dropped by air­craft 5,300 gal­lons of fresh drink­ing wa­ter and 8,000 meals ready-to-eat to thou­sands of Ir­aqis who have been stran­ded atop a moun­tain, driv­en there by at­tacks from the Is­lam­ic State in Ir­aq and Syr­ia (IS­IS). 

Obama said he dir­ec­ted U.S. forces to “take tar­geted strikes” against IS­IS to pre­vent the ter­ror­ist group from ad­van­cing in the Ir­aqi city of Er­bil and threat­en­ing U.S. per­son­nel there. “We plan to stand vi­gil­ant and take ac­tion if they threaten our fa­cil­it­ies any­where in Ir­aq, in­clud­ing the con­su­late in Er­bil and em­bassy in Bagh­dad,” the pres­id­ent said in a late-night state­ment.

The U.S., he said, won’t keep the refugees wait­ing either. “Earli­er this week, one Ir­aqi in the area cried to the world, ‘There is no one com­ing to help,’ ” Obama said. “Well, today Amer­ica is com­ing to help.”

Seni­or ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials said Thursday night that no air­strikes have been car­ried out. “This is go­ing to be a very long-term ef­fort against” IS­IS, one said.

In his re­marks, Obama said the U.S. will also provide “ur­gent as­sist­ance” to the Ir­aqi gov­ern­ment and Kur­d­ish forces in their fight against IS­IS.

He ad­ded: “We can act, care­fully and re­spons­ibly, to pre­vent a po­ten­tial act of gen­o­cide.”

Obama ad­dressed a war-weary Amer­ica dir­ectly. “I know that many of you are rightly con­cerned about any Amer­ic­an mil­it­ary ac­tion in Ir­aq, even lim­ited strikes like these,” he said. There­fore, he con­tin­ued, “as com­mand­er in chief, I will not al­low the United States to be dragged in­to fight­ing an­oth­er war in Ir­aq, so as we sup­port Ir­aqis as they take the fight to these ter­ror­ists, Amer­ic­an com­bat troops will not be re­turn­ing to fight in Ir­aq, be­cause there is no Amer­ic­an mil­it­ary solu­tion to the lar­ger crisis in Ir­aq.”

Sec­ret­ary of State John Kerry said in a state­ment Thursday night that IS­IS’s mis­sion “bear[s] all the warn­ing signs and hall­marks of gen­o­cide.” “For any­one who needed a wake-up call, this is it,” he said.

Be­fore the pres­id­ent’s state­ment, White House of­fi­cials made the rounds by phone, in­form­ing mem­bers of Con­gress about their plans on the crisis, ac­cord­ing to CNN.

Earli­er, a New York Times re­port, which cited Kur­d­ish of­fi­cials, said Amer­ic­an mil­it­ary forces launched air­strikes on at least two IS­IS-re­lated tar­gets Thursday night. The Pentagon denied any such ac­tion.

Mc­Clatchy, cit­ing a res­id­ent of the city of Kalak, re­por­ted an air at­tack Thursday near the Kur­d­ish cap­it­al of Er­bil that is cur­rently con­trolled by IS­IS. The pub­lic­a­tion did not draw a con­nec­tion to the air­strikes re­por­ted by The Times.

About 40,000 Ir­aqi Yazid­is — ad­her­ents of a re­li­gion that blends Is­lam, Chris­tian­ity, and Zoroastri­an­ism — have been trapped on a moun­tain­top in north­ern Ir­aq by IS­IS forces since Monday. More than a dozen have already died of de­hyd­ra­tion.

A top Kur­d­ish com­mand­er im­plored the U.S. to in­ter­vene Thursday. “The Amer­ic­ans keep say­ing they will help us,” he said. “Well, if they plan to help they had bet­ter do it now.”

On CNN Thursday night, Sen. Lind­sey Gra­ham, R-S.C., said of IS­IS: “If you be­lieve these people are a threat to our home­land, which I do, there’s no way to deal with them without Amer­ic­an air­power.”

The sen­at­or warned of what could come later if the U.S. doesn’t act now. “If we do not con­tain this now and hit them us­ing air­power, this goes on six months and they go in­to Le­ban­on and then Jordan, you’re prob­ably go­ing to have to have boots on the ground,” Gra­ham said. “Nobody wants that.”

Sen. John Mc­Cain, R-Ar­iz., joined Gra­ham in a state­ment after Obama’s re­marks Thursday night, in which he called for a more com­pre­hens­ive White House strategy. “This should in­clude the pro­vi­sion of mil­it­ary and oth­er as­sist­ance to our Kur­d­ish, Ir­aqi, and Syr­i­an part­ners who are fight­ing IS­IS,” Mc­Cain said. “It should in­clude U.S. air strikes against IS­IS lead­ers, forces, and po­s­i­tions both in Ir­aq and Syr­ia. It should in­clude sup­port to Sunni Ir­aqis who seek to res­ist IS­IS.”


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