The Iraqi Ambassador to the U.S. Lukman Faily called on the U.S. on Tuesday to help the Iraqi army fight the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), by providing weapons to the Iraqi military and by conducting airstrikes on the militant group. Faily claimed that his government was running out of time.
Over the past two weeks, the Sunni militant group has taken over several key cities and has forced hundreds of thousands to flee to Iraqi Kurdistan. On Monday, the group declared it had formed an Islamic caliphate, and vowed to expand its occupation in the region.
“We desperately need US assistance to turn the tide,” Faily said. “We believe that immediate and increased military assistance including targeted airstrikes are crucial to defeat this growing threat. Time is not on our side … further delay benefits only the terrorists.”
The request came at the same time the Iraqi parliament took a weeklong break from negotiating the formation of a new government -- one that was supposed to include all political and ethnic parties and present a unified front against ISIS. But just a few hours into the meeting, Sunni and Kurdish leaders walked out, forcing the country in to political limbo.
This is not the first time the Iraqi government has asked for U.S. support. On June 18, Gen. Martin Dempsey, the senior ranking member of the U.S. armed forces, spoke before the Senate Appropriations Committee, claiming that the U.S. had received a request from the Iraqi government to use its air power in the conflict.
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"We have a request from the Iraqi government for air power," Dempsey said.
Although President Barack Obama has said he will not send troops back to Iraq, he has not ruled out airstrikes. Senior U.S. politicians have also advocated for air strikes, but fear the U.S. does not have enough intelligence about the location of ISIS strongholds and could kill innocent civilians as a result. According to other reports, particularly one published by the Independent, the U.S. has advised senior officials in Iraq that Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki must step down before it can intervene.
U.S. officials said Monday that an additional 300 troops would be sent to Iraq to join the other 300 Special Operations troops President Obama sent earlier in the month to assist the government in the increasingly volatile conflict. In total, the number of U.S. military personnel in the country has reached 800 people, including security guards. The Department of State, Department of Defense and White House could not verify exactly how many of those officers were working in the country.
President Obama said the troops would determine “how we can best train, advise and support Iraqi security forces going forward.” But it is unclear what that actually means. Austin Long, a professor at Columbia University and a former consultant on Iraq for RAND Corporation said the U.S. military personnel in Iraq would most likely help the Iraqi military gather intelligence -- a task it has largely failed to do effectively since the troop withdrawal in 2011.
“First and foremost they will try and figure out what is going on out in the battlefield,” he said. “This is something the U.S. has been lacking in Iraq. We have lacked the ability to collect reliable intelligence about what is going on in the front lines. That’s also what is going on with the Iraqi security forces.”
The Iraqi military, Long said, is unsure of where ISIS is headed next and could benefit from greater intelligence with help from the U.S. So far, the Sunni militant group has taken the path of least resistance -- occupying lightly contested areas, but its leaders plan to expand the group's role in the region by grabbing more land. The question remains: Will ISIS finally move to take over Baghdad?
“ISIS is sort of attacking everywhere right now. It’s going to be tough for them to concentrate a lot of their areas,” Long said. “If they move a lot of their best fighters to the front lines (Baghdad), they risk getting stabbed in the back by all the local allies who may not sign up for the entire ISIS program. Those Sunnis might just let ISIS take the initial advance and get shot to pieces and then they can clean up.”