US air strikes: Too little, too late

US air strikes: Too little, too late

The US is responsible for the Iraq situation and partly for the rise of the ISIS, al-Qaeda's most successful franchise.

US air strikes on positions of radical "Islamic State" fighters in Iraq are much too little, much too late. Since the Islamic State swept into northern Iraq in June, US aircraft have flown more than 1,000 surveillance missions over the country and identified targets which if destroyed earlier would have crippled the group's capacity to take and hold territory.

The Islamic State is now carrying out ethnic and sectarian cleansing against Christians, Turkomen (ethnic Turks), and Yezidis (a pantheistic faith), regarded by the group as "apostates," "heretics," or pagans who refuse to adopt the "true faith."

Largely Sunni radicals from Tunisia, Libya, Chechnya, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, Islamic State fighters are exterminating Iraq's multi-ethnic, multi-sectarian society and wreaking havoc on the country's ancient and Islamic cultural heritage.

ISIS fighters shoot, decapitate, and torture members of targeted communities and take over the homes, businesses, and lands of their members expelled into the wilderness or driven into the Kurdish region, stretching its slender resources to the limit.

Foreign wars

Only when Islamic State forces were 40 km from the Kurdish capital, Irbil, did US President Barack Obama order his air force to drop rounds of "smart" munitions on Islamic State forces.  He has said strikes would be limited when a full-blown air campaign is required.  Obama is allergic to involvement in foreign wars especially those of Washington's making.

Ironically, the war planes involved flew from a carrier named for George H W Bush, the president who launched Washington's first disastrous and destructive war on Iraq in 1991. Obama, reportedly, plans only limited strikes to prevent the Islamic State from attacking Irbil or Baghdad.

The US should have taken action against the Islamic State, formerly known as the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), more than a year ago, after its fighters seized control of Raqqa in north-central Syria, expelling the majority of that city's residents, including tens of thousands of Syrians displaced by the conflict raging in that country.

Since then the ISIS has occupied Syria's Deir al-Zor province and exploited its oil resources and taken control of Ramadi, the capital of Iraq's western Anbar province, as well as the iconic city of Falluja.  During all this time Washington has done nothing to halt the progress of the ISIS, which is now threatening the very existence of the modern Syria and Iraqi states.

The US is directly and totally responsible for the current parlous situation in Iraq and partly responsible for the rise of the ISIS, al-Qaeda's most successful franchise. The US created the conditions for the emergence of the ISIS when George W Bush invaded and occupied Iraq and promoted a political system based on power-sharing among the country's ethnic and sectarian communities.  The US occupation effectively handed over to Shia fundamentalist parties outlawed by the toppled regime.

Secular Shias, Sunnis, Kurds, Christians, and other minorities were marginalised by the Shia fundamentalists.  Once US and Iranian backed Nuri al-Maliki had become prime minister all but selected Kurdish and Sunni politicians were excluded from governance and from the benefits distributed by Baghdad. Revolt was guaranteed, particularly by suppressed Sunnis who had helped US forces contain al-Qaeda during 2006-08. They have rallied to the black banner of the ISIS.

Prime minister since 2006, Maliki has reigned over a restive populace kept in check by Shia death squads and militias, transformed the US-trained new Iraqi army into a fiefdom for supporters, detained thousands of dissident Sunnis, tolerated rampant corruption and fought with the Kurds over the exploitation of oil fields in their autonomous region.

Nevertheless, Maliki remained the US and Iranian choice for the top job until this spring.Both now want Maliki out and are pressing him to depart so he can be replaced by another figure from his faction although it has caused the trouble in the first place.  For Iraq to survive and recover political balance, the communal model installed by the US 11 years ago has to be scrapped and a secular system imposed, even if this means the re-emergence of the ousted Baath party outlawed by Washington in 2003.

The weak and divided Iraqi parliament has appointed a Sunni speaker and Kurdish president but has failed to choose a new prime minister in spite of the urgent threat to the country posed by the Islamic State. Maliki demands immunity from prosecution, protection for himself and his entourage, money, and other benefits before he agrees to step down.  He deserves, instead, to be hailed before a court in Iraq and prosecuted to the full extent of laws which have been flagrantly violated during his reign.