Iraq humanitarian crisis eases, and US doves line up against 'new Iraq war'

Antiwar politicians and activists who largely stood by Obama when he ordered limited strikes to avert a 'potential genocide' are sounding alarms over what they see as his military reengagement in Iraq.

Steven Senne/AP
President Obama speaks to reporters, Thursday, Aug. 14, 2014, in Edgartown, Mass., about developments in Iraq, in Ferguson, Mo.

When President Obama announced “limited” air strikes in Iraq last week aimed at heading off a “potential genocide” and safeguarding US personnel and diplomatic facilities in the region, the decision garnered support from many hawks and doves alike.

But a sense is growing now that the humanitarian and security emergencies caused by advancing Islamist militants in northern Iraq have eased in the wake of the US strikes, and antiwar politicians and activists who largely stood by a war-reluctant president are sounding alarms over what they see as Mr. Obama’s military reengagement in Iraq.

Warning of “the new Iraq war,” some members of Congress and antiwar groups are gearing up for battle in September, when they say the Obama administration will go public with plans to ramp up support – including military assistance – to the Iraqi government in its fight with militants of the Islamic State.

“It is critical that we not get pulled into the war in Iraq,” says Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D) of Massachusetts, who made a point of not criticizing Obama’s air strikes in northern Iraq when he first announced them, instead underscoring that she understood they would be “limited, targeted actions.”

But other antiwar forces opposed even those limited air strikes, saying they unavoidably have the US “choosing sides” in what they say is Iraq’s internal conflict, and are only the prelude to deeper US involvement.

That sentiment was captured in banners carried outside the White House after Obama announced the air strikes on advancing fighters for Islamic State (IS), formerly known as ISIS. One carried by the liberal women’s group Codepink read: “No US war in Iraq, been there done that.” 

On Thursday Obama, on vacation on Martha’s Vineyard, delivered a statement to reporters in which he declared the humanitarian mission in favor of thousands of minority Yazidis stranded on northern Iraq’s Mount Sinjar a success. As a result of air strikes on IS fighters pursuing the Yazidis and the airdrops of food and water to the trapped Iraqis, most of the Yazidis have been able to safely leave the mountain and those remaining have adequate food and water, Obama said.

The findings of a US assessment team that went to Mount Sinjar means that a rescue mission that had been in the planning stages for evacuating to safety what was thought to be thousands of Yazidis still on the mountain will no longer be necessary, Obama said.

But the president noted that the other air strikes announced last week – those targeting IS positions threatening US personnel and facilities – continue. He also praised recent steps in Baghdad towards formation of a new government, and suggested a new unity government drawing in all of Iraq’s sectarian communities would allow for stepped up US support. About three hours after Obama spoke, Iraqi state television announced that Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki had agreed to step aside, a move that would facilitate the forming of such a new government.

It’s the continuing air strikes on IS positions and promises of deepening support that has antiwar forces cringing.

“These strikes do involve the United States directly in hostilities, regardless of how limited they are and regardless of whether there’s a humanitarian purpose involved,” said US Rep. Jim McGovern (D) of Massachusetts in a statement following Obama’s announcement last week. “When we bomb ISIS, which is a horrible group,” he added, “we have to realize that we are heading down the path of choosing sides in an ancient religious and sectarian war inside Iraq.”       

This week Representative McGovern demanded a full debate and vote of authorization on any ongoing US intervention in Iraq once Congress returns from summer recess in September. The demand that Congress authorize any military involvement in Iraq is not limited to left-wing Democrats but is also heard from moderates like Virginia Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine and Republican libertarian Sen. Rand Paul.  

“Are we going to play dumb and let this become bigger?” McGovern queried in an interview with Tom Hayden on the peace activist’s website. Noting that a range of US officials have begun justifying a deeper level of US involvement by describing IS as “worse, more brutal, more terrifying than Al Qaeda,” the Massachusetts congressman added, “I have no confidence they won’t eventually put American boots on the ground.”

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