16 Sep 2014

US air strike targets Islamic State in Iraq

The US carries out its first air strike against Islamic State (IS) militants under a new strategy to defeat the group in Iraq.

Above: a Kurdish peshmerga fighter launches mortar shells towards Zummar, controlled by Islamic State (IS)

The US military said the strike had destroyed an IS fighting position south-west of Baghdad that had been firing on Iraqi forces.

“The air strike south west of Baghdad was the first strike taken as part of our expanded efforts beyond protecting our own people and humanitarian missions to hit IS targets as Iraqi forces go on offence,” central command said in a statement.

It also said an IS position near Sinjar in the north had been targeted on Sunday, destroying six IS vehicles. The US has conducted more than 160 air strikes across Iraq since August.

Fight against IS

On Monday world leaders backed military measures to help defeat IS fighters in Iraq.

Paris hosted an international summit on Monday, attended by the five UN Security Council permanent members, Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond, European and Arab states, and representatives of the EU, Arab League and United Nations. All pledged to help the government in Baghdad fight against IS militants.

But a statement after Monday’s conference made no mention at all of Syria – the other country where IS fighters hold a wide swathe of territory. Iraq attended Monday’s meeting but Syria did not, nor did its main regional ally, Iran.

“All participants underscored the urgent need to remove Daesh (IS) from the regions in which it has established itself in Iraq,” said a statement after Monday’s talks.

To that end, they committed to supporting the new Iraqi government in its fight against Daesh, by any “means necessary, including appropriate military assistance,” it said.

Britain, Washington’s main ally when it invaded Iraq in 2003, has yet to confirm it will take part in air strikes, despite the killing of British aid worker David Haines by Islamic State fighters last week.

US target Sunni allies

Washington is also trying to persuade armed Sunni factions and tribal figures to fight IS militants in an echo of the “awakening” movement” that drove al-Qaeda from the country six years ago.

James Jeffrey, a veteran US diplomat, said: “There is a lot of traffic right now. There were meetings in Irbil. There were meetings in Amman.”

The plan is far from easy, since many Sunnis regard the “awakening” as a failure and a betrayal and see the Sunni Islamic State’s sweep into predominantly Sunni northern and western Iraq as the lesser of two evils, despite its mass killings.

US and Iraqi officials say it is not a rehash of the “awakening” but will incorporate Sunnis into a “national guard”, a security force intended to decentralise power from Baghdad, addressing Sunni demands to stop oppression from the majority Shia security forces.

Past promises by the Americans and Iraqi officials to integrate the minority into the Iraqi state in return for its help were never realised. Instead, the movement’s leaders found themselves hunted by both jihadists and the Shia-led Iraqi government.