KIRKUK, Iraq -- As President Barack Obama considers taking targeted military action against the Sunni militants associated with the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), Iraqis, scarred by memories of the Iraq War, said they do not want the U.S. to intervene. The presence of American troops won’t improve the problems many Iraqis confront every day, they said.
“First we have to deal with the U.S. here and the war, and now we have this. I had to leave my home and now, again, I have to leave and I can barely feed my family,” Abu Moloud, a refugee from Fallujah, said.
Iraqis worried that even small-scale U.S. intervention would eventually turn into a full-blown war reminiscent of 2003.
Obama announced Thursday that he would send 300 special operations troops to Iraq to assist the government in fighting ISIS insurgents. The president said that the U.S. would not engage in combat in Iraq, but that it was prepared to take “targeted and precise military action” against ISIS, most likely in the form of airstrikes.
The statement came after almost a week of deliberations between Obama and his national security team about the possibilities for U.S. intervention in Iraq. The week began with Obama sending an aircraft carrier to the Persian Gulf, to prepare for possible airstrikes. The U.S. is also sending 275 Marines to augment the contingent defending its embassy in Baghdad.
"We gave Iraq the chance to have an inclusive democracy," Obama told CNN on Friday. He urged Iraqi leaders to develop a political solution to the growing crisis: "If they don't, there won't be a military solution to the problem," he said.
Iraqi Sunnis said a U.S. intervention would hurt their sect because many Sunnis have taken up arms to fight with ISIS against Maliki’s forces. A U.S. intervention, or targeted military strikes, would increase the chances that they would be killed.
Seif Zaad, a refugee from Fallujah, said civilians in his city are taking up arms on their own to join the fighting against the Iraqi military, using machine guns and whatever other weapons they can buy or find. Sunnis fleeing places such as Anbar and Tikrit also said many people from their communities are staying behind to fight. Maloud said the majority of opposition fighters in Fallujah do not pledge allegiance to ISIS, but are battling to remove Maliki from power.
On the other side of the conflict, Shias in villages around the town of Basheer, just south of Kirkuk, said they would fight with the Kurdish military, the peshmerga, against ISIS to protect their holy shrines in the area.
Over the past week the peshmerga soldiers have been faced with the task of trying to protect the Iraqi Kurdistan border on two fronts. They are fighting both ISIS and the Iraqi military. With increasing attacks on border regions, it seems the peshmerga could benefit from U.S. presence in the region.
At an Iraqi Kurdish military base outside of Erbil, peshmerga soldiers frantically inspected all cars passing through the nearby checkpoint, opening the doors to each vehicle. They questioned groups of Iraqis fleeing the country and checked them for weapons.
As the conflict draws in more civilians, it would be difficult for the Obama administration to avoid hitting civilians from ISIS in its targeted attacks.
Wary of this scenario, senior U.S. politicians have called for Maliki to step down in exchange for U.S. air support, saying his resignation would allow for a more peaceful negotiation process. The White House has not officially called for Maliki to leave office, and Maliki spokesmen said the prime minister would vehemently oppose such a deal.
"It is not our job to choose Iraq's leaders, but I don't think there is any secret that, right now at least, there are deep divisions between Sunni, Shia and Kurdish leaders," Obama said Thursday. Obama said he would “not pursue military options that support one sect inside of Iraq for the expense of another.”
Iraqis oppose a U.S. intervention far more than the imminent danger of airstrikes. They said they simply do not trust the U.S. after it supported Maliki and what they called his “discriminatory policies.”
Bekry Said, the owner of a small shop outside of Erbil, blamed the current conflict in Iraq on the U.S. and Maliki, saying the Shiite leader had failed to provide support to all Iraqis.
“Maliki created this problem for himself and now everyone hates him,” he said.