Events unfolding in Iraq reached a crescendo this week when the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi declared himself ruler of the “Islamic State,” independent of Baghdad. Baghdadi and fellow ISIL militants have gained both territory and heavy weaponry, which was stolen from the Iraqi military. Military control has split the country by religious and ethnic groups — Kurdish, Sunni, and Shia taking control of regions and rhetoric increasingly looking for a divided nation.
This same tension breakout across the country is also visible in the official government, leaving the Iraqi parliament crumbling and weakened, and Prime Minister Noui al-Maliki facing an overwhelmingly unsupportive public and various demands for independence from different factions. Even internationally Maliki has seen criticism, many saying he did not do enough to ensure that the government was inclusive. Kurdish and Sunni parties have taken their party members out of the parliament, and President Massoud Barzani, of the Kurdish region of Iraq, is looking to put together a referendum for Kurdish independence as well, further adding to the likelihood that factions within Iraq will seek to divide the country leading to further violence.
“Iraq is effectively partitioned now; should we stay in this tragic situation that Iraq is living? Of course, we are all with our Arab and Sunni brothers together in this crisis, but that doesn’t mean that we will abandon our goal,” said Barzani, according to The Guardian. ISIL leader Baghdadi released a 20 minute audio clip giving a speech to encourage fellow Muslims everywhere to join in the jihad against those who have attacked all Muslims. “Take up arms, take up arms and fight … your brothers all over the world are waiting for you rescue,” he said, according to CBS. Maliki for his part called on Sunni tribesmen to step back from insurrection and join with the official state government. “They should return to their sense,” he said, according to The Washington Press. “I welcome them. I welcome them back. I welcome their unity with their brothers from other tribes,” said Prime Minister Maliki.
For Americans, the most vital question usually begs to know how the U.S. will be involved, both militarily and diplomatically, going forward. President Barack Obama wrote a letter to the Speaker of the House of Representative and to the President Pro Tempore of the Senate outlining the extent of his plan to increase armed forces. “In light of the security situation in Baghdad, I have ordered up to approximately 200 additional U.S Armed Forces personnel to Iraq to reinforce security at the U.S. Embassy, its support facilities, and the Baghdad International Airport,” said Obama, noting that aircraft, surveillance, security, and reconnaissance support will be included in this package.
June 30 also saw White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest discussing Iraq, updating press on the status of military advantages being given to Iraq’s government. “There’s one piece of military equipment that has attracted a lot of attention, and that’s a delivery of F-16s that’s scheduled for later this year,” said Earnest, confirming that the delivery remains a planned for commitment but has been somewhat slowed by logistical requirements, and by administrative items, “which the Iraqi government has been slow to complete.”
A speech given by Obama on June 20 emphasized his intention to keep Americans out of Iraq. “American forces will not be returning to combat in Iraq. But we will help Iraqis as they take the fight to terrorists who threaten the Iraqi people in the region and American interests as well,” said Obama according to CNN. That said, he outlined plans to increase intelligence and surveillance there so “that we’ve got a better picture of what’s taking place inside of Iraq.” With that to build upon, the president says future activity will be easier to plan. “In recent days, we’ve positioned additional U.S. military assets in the region. Because of our increased intelligence resources, we’re developing more information about potential targets associated with ISIL and going forward we will be prepared to take targeted and precise military action if and when we determine that the situation on the ground requires it.”
He also discussed diplomatic efforts to work with leaders in Iraq and with other bordering nations, and the need for all factions to strike a balance. “Shia, Sunni, Kurds; all Iraqis must have confidence that they can advance their interests and aspirations through the political process rather than through violence.” The balance of power between opposing groups was meant to be kept in part by the division of three main positions of of the parliamentary speaker, president, and prime minister; however, relations within the government have quickly soured, and upcoming elections are concerning given the unrest.
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