Iraqi MPs have approved new defence and interior ministers, completing a unity government that is battling the spread of Islamic State militants.
Mohammed Salem al-Ghabban, a Shia, was appointed interior minister, while Khaled al-Obeidi, a Sunni, was confirmed as defence minister.
IS controls large parts of the country, and has been making gains despite US-led coalition air strikes.
On Friday, a curfew was imposed in the city of Ramadi amid fierce fighting.
The vote by Iraqi MPs will be a big relief both inside and outside Iraq after weeks of wrangling, says BBC Arab affairs editor Sebastian Usher.
A more inclusive cabinet is seen as an essential first step in countering IS fighters, particularly among Iraq’s Sunni minority, our correspondent adds.
Analysis: Sebastian Usher, BBC Arab affairs editor
It’s taken more than a month for these two key posts to be agreed. In a country where
more than 1,000 people were dying in violence every month even before the rise of IS militants, the interior and defence jobs were always going to be highly sensitive and
difficult to fill.
The appointment of Mohammed Salem al-Ghabban as interior minister is something of a compromise after the powerful Shia party he belongs to, the Badr Organisation, conceded that their preferred candidate, the party’s leader, would not be acceptable to Sunni parties.
As for the man taking over at the defence ministry, Khaled al-Obeidi, his appointment has
clear symbolic significance as he is a leading Sunni politician from the city of Mosul that
was the first to be overrun by IS.
So, Mr Abadi has succeeded in fulfilling the first part of his herculean task – to assemble a government that looks and feels more inclusive.
His backers inside and outside Iraq are hoping it will create a sense of unity at the top that will provide an effective political response to the huge and complex challenge posed by IS.
Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi had pledged to fill the posts in September, but his previous nominations were rejected.
The previous Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki was forced to resign in August, as the Sunni Arab and Kurdish communities accused his administration of pursuing sectarian policies.
A new unity government was sworn in on 8 September, headed by Mr Abadi, with Sunni and Kurdish deputy prime ministers.
Iraqi government forces, supported by US-led air strikes, are currently battling IS militants near Ramadi, the capital of Anbar province, as well as the city of Tikrit, which was seized by IS earlier this year.
Anbar is a strategically important province, and home to Iraq’s second-largest dam, the Haditha dam.
Seizing Anbar would enable IS to to establish a supply line and potentially launch attacks
on the Iraqi capital, Baghdad.
On Thursday, officials said more than 40 people were killed and dozens wounded in a
series of attacks in mainly Shia areas of Baghdad.
The capital was rocked by further attacks on Friday night, as a series of car bombs killed
at least 23 people.
Meanwhile, US military officials said in a statement that they had conducted 10 air strikes against IS targets in Iraq, and 15 air strikes against IS targets in Syria, on Friday and Saturday.
IS buildings, oil facilities and armed vehicles were among the targets destroyed, the statement added.
In other government appointments on Saturday, former foreign minister Hoshyar Zebari
was appointed finance minister.
He is among six Kurds to be given cabinet posts, double the number they were originally offered.
Adel Fahd al-Shirshab was made tourism minister, while Bayan Nouri was named minister
for women’s affairs.
|October 12, 2014 | 1752 GMT|
U.S. ground troops will likely be used in ground operations when the Iraqi military is ready to mount an offensive against Islamic State militants, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey said Oct. 12, France24 reported. Dempsey added that he has yet to see a scenario where U.S. ground troops would have made a difference in the conflict, but added that that may change. The United States has only authorized airstrikes against Islamic State targets and has restricted its advisors to non-combat roles.
|October 7, 2014 | 1644 GMT|
Since the days of Herodotus and Nebuchadnezzar, there have been stories of eternal flames arising from the earth of Baba Gurgur near the town of Kirkuk. German explorer and cartographer Carsten Niebuhr wrote in the 18th century: “A place called Baba Gurgur is above all remarkable because the earth is so hot that eggs and meat can be boiled here.” The flames were in fact produced by the natural gas and naphtha seeping through cracks in the rocks, betraying the vast quantities of crude oil lying beneath the surface. Once the area came under British control, London wasted little time in calling on geologists from Venezuela, Mexico, Romania and Indochina to study the land and recommend sites for drilling. On Oct. 14, 1927, the fate of Kirkuk was sealed: A gusher rising 43 meters (around 140 feet) erupted from the earth, dousing the surrounding land with some 95,000 barrels of crude oil over 10 days before the well could be capped.
The British imported Sunni Arab tribesmen to work the oil fields, gradually reducing the Kurdish majority and weakening the influence of the Turkmen minority in the area. The Arabization project was reinvigorated when the Arab Baath Socialist Party came to power through a military coup in 1968. Arabic names were given to businesses, neighborhoods, schools and streets, while laws were adjusted to pressure Kurds to leave Kirkuk and to transfer ownership of their homes and land to Arabs. Eviction tactics turned ghastly in 1988 under Saddam Hussein’s Anfal campaign, during which chemical weapons were employed against the Kurdish population. The Iraqi government continued with heavy-handed tactics to Arabize the territory until the collapse of the Baathist regime in 2003. Naturally, revenge was a primary goal as Kurdish factions worked quickly to repopulate the region with Kurds and to drive the Arabs out.
Though Kirkuk, its oil-rich fields and a belt of disputed territories stretching between Diyala and Nineveh provinces remain under the jurisdiction of the Iraqi central government in Baghdad, the Kurdish leadership has continually sought to redraw the boundaries of Iraqi Kurdistan. After the Iraqi Kurdish region gained de facto autonomy with the creation of a no-fly zone in 1991 and then formally coalesced into the Kurdistan Regional Government following the fall of Saddam Hussein, Kurdish influence gradually expanded in the disputed areas. Kurdish representation increased through multi-ethnic political councils, facilitated by the security protection these communities received from the Kurdish peshmerga and by the promise of energy revenues. The formal annexation of Kirkuk and parts of Nineveh and Diyala, part of the larger Kurdish strategy, would come in due time. Indeed, the expectation that legalities of the annexation process would soon be completed convinced a handful of foreign energy firms to sign contracts with the Kurdish authorities — as opposed to Baghdad — enabling the disputed territories to finally begin realizing the region’s energy potential.
Then the unexpected happened: In June, the collapse of the Iraqi army in the north under the duress of the Islamic State left the Kirkuk fields wide open, allowing the Kurdish peshmerga to finally and fully occupy them. Though the Kurds now sit nervously on the prize, Baghdad, Iran, local Arabs, Turkmen and the Islamic State are eyeing these fields with a predatory gaze. At the same time, a motley force of Iran-backed Shiite militias, Kurdish militants and Sunni tribesmen are trying to flush the Islamic State out of the region in order to return to settling the question of where to draw the line on Kurdish autonomy. The Sunnis will undoubtedly demand a stake in the Kurd-controlled oil fields as repayment for turning on the Islamic State, guaranteeing a Kurdish-Sunni confrontation in Kirkuk that Baghdad will surely exploit.
|October 7, 2014 | 0800 GMT|
In June 1919, aboard an Allied warship en route to Paris, sat Damat Ferid Pasha, the Grand Vizier of a crumbling Ottoman Empire. The elderly statesman, donning an iconic red fez and boasting an impeccably groomed mustache, held in his hands a memorandum that he was to present to the Allied powers at the Quai d’Orsay. The negotiations on postwar reparations started five months earlier, but the Ottoman delegation was prepared to make the most of its tardy invitation to the talks. As he journeyed across the Mediterranean that summer toward the French shore, Damat Ferid mentally rehearsed the list of demands he would make to the Allied powers during his last-ditch effort to hold the empire together.
He began with a message, not of reproach, but of inculpability: “Gentlemen, I should not be bold enough to come before this High Assembly if I thought that the Ottoman people had incurred any responsibility in the war that has ravaged Europe and Asia with fire and sword.” His speech was followed by an even more defiant memorandum, denouncing any attempt to redistribute Ottoman land to the Kurds, Greeks and Armenians, asserting: “In Asia, the Turkish lands are bounded on the south by the provinces of Mosul and Diyarbakir, as well as a part of Aleppo as far as the Mediterranean.” When Damat Ferid’s demands were presented in Paris, the Allies were in awe of the gall displayed by the Ottoman delegation. British Prime Minister David Lloyd George regarded the presentation as a “good joke,” while U.S. President Woodrow Wilson said he had never seen anything more “stupid.” They flatly rejected Damat Ferid’s apparently misguided appeal — declaring that the Turks were unfit to rule over other races, regardless of their common Muslim identity — and told him and his delegation to leave. The Western powers then proceeded, through their own bickering, to divide the post-Ottoman spoils.
Under far different circumstances today, Ankara is again boldly appealing to the West to follow its lead in shaping policy in Turkey’s volatile Muslim backyard. And again, Western powers are looking at Turkey with incredulity, waiting for Ankara to assume responsibility for the region by tackling the immediate threat of the Islamic State with whatever resources necessary, rather than pursuing a seemingly reckless strategy of toppling the Syrian government. Turkey’s behavior can be perplexing and frustrating to Western leaders, but the country’s combination of reticence in action and audacity in rhetoric can be traced back to many of the same issues that confronted Istanbul in 1919, beginning with the struggle over the territory of Mosul.
The Turkish Fight for Mosul
At the time of the British negotiation with the Ottomans over the fate of the Mosul region, British officers touring the area wrote extensively about the ubiquity of the Turkish language, noting that “Turkish is spoken all along the high road in all localities of any importance.” This fact formed part of Turkey’s argument that the land should remain under Turkish sovereignty. Even after the 1923 signing of the Treaty of Lausanne, in which Turkey renounced its rights to Ottoman lands, the Turkish government still held out a claim to the Mosul region, fearful that the Brits would use Kurdish separatism to further weaken the Turkish state. Invoking the popular Wilsonian principle of self-determination, the Turkish government asserted to the League of Nations that most of the Kurds and Arabs inhabiting the area preferred to be part of Turkey anyway. The British countered by asserting that their interviews with locals revealed a prevailing preference to become part of the new British-ruled Kingdom of Iraq.
The Turks, in no shape to bargain with London and mired in a deep internal debate over whether Turkey should forego these lands and focus instead on the benefits of a downsized republic, lost the argument and were forced to renounce their claims to the Mosul territory in 1925. As far as the Brits and the French were concerned, the largely Kurdish territory would serve as a vital buffer space to prevent the Turks from eventually extending their reach from Asia Minor to territories in Mesopotamia, Syria and Armenia. But the fear of Turkish expansion was not the only factor informing the European strategy to keep northern Iraq out of Turkish hands.
The Oil Factor
Since the days of Herodotus and Nebuchadnezzar, there have been stories of eternal flames arising from the earth of Baba Gurgur near the town of Kirkuk. German explorer and cartographer Carsten Niebuhr wrote in the 18th century: “A place called Baba Gurgur is above all remarkable because the earth is so hot that eggs and meat can be boiled here.” The flames were in fact produced by the natural gas and naphtha seeping through cracks in the rocks, betraying the vast quantities of crude oil lying beneath the surface. London wasted little time in calling on geologists from Venezuela, Mexico, Romania and Indochina to study the land and recommend sites for drilling. On Oct. 14, 1927, the fate of Kirkuk was sealed: A gusher rising 43 meters (around 140 feet) erupted from the earth, dousing the surrounding land with some 95,000 barrels of crude oil for 10 days before the well could be capped. With oil now part of the equation, the political situation in Kirkuk became all the more flammable.
The British mostly imported Sunni Arab tribesmen to work the oil fields, gradually reducing the Kurdish majority and weakening the influence of the Turkmen minority in the area. The Arabization project was given new energy when the Arab Baath Socialist Party came to power through a military coup in 1968. Arabic names were given to businesses, neighborhoods, schools and streets, while laws were adjusted to pressure Kurds to leave Kirkuk and transfer ownership of their homes and lands to Arabs. Eviction tactics turned ghastly in 1988 under Saddam Hussein’s Anfal campaign, during which chemical weapons were employed against the Kurdish population. The Iraqi government continued with heavy-handed tactics to Arabize the territory until the collapse of the Baathist regime in 2003. Naturally, revenge was a primary goal as Kurdish factions worked quickly to repopulate the region with Kurds and drive the Arabs out.
Even as Kirkuk, its oil-rich fields and a belt of disputed territories stretching between Diyala and Nineveh provinces have remained officially under the jurisdiction of the Iraqi central government in Baghdad, the Kurdish leadership has sought to redraw the boundaries of Iraqi Kurdistan. After the Iraqi Kurdish region gained de facto autonomy with the creation of a no-fly zone in 1991 and then formally coalesced into the Kurdistan Regional Government after the fall of Saddam Hussein, Kurdish influence gradually expanded in the disputed areas. Kurdish representation increased through multi-ethnic political councils, facilitated by the security protection these communities received from the Kurdish peshmerga and by the promise of energy revenues, while Baghdad remained mired in its own problems. Formally annexing Kirkuk and parts of Nineveh and Diyala, part of the larger Kurdish strategy, would come in due time. Indeed, the expectation that legalities of the annexation process would soon be completed convinced a handful of foreign energy firms to sign contracts with the Kurdish authorities — as opposed to Baghdad — enabling the disputed territories to finally begin realizing the region’s energy potential.
Then the unexpected happened: In June, the collapse of the Iraqi army in the north under the duress of the Islamic State left the Kirkuk fields wide open, allowing the Kurdish peshmerga to finally and fully occupy them. Though the Kurds now sit nervously on the prize, Baghdad, Iran, local Arabs and Turkmen and the Islamic State are eyeing these fields with a predatory gaze. At the same time, a motley force of Iran-backed Shiite militias, Kurdish militants and Sunni tribesmen are trying to flush the Islamic State out of the region in order to return to settling the question of where to draw the line on Kurdish autonomy. The Sunnis will undoubtedly demand a stake in the oil fields that the Kurds now control as repayment for turning on the Islamic State, guaranteeing a Kurdish-Sunni confrontation that Baghdad will surely exploit.
The Turkish Dilemma
The modern Turkish government is looking at Iraq and Syria in a way similar to how Damat Ferid did almost a century ago when he sought in Paris to maintain Turkish sovereignty over the region. From Ankara’s point of view, the extension of a Turkish sphere of influence into neighboring Muslim lands is the antidote to weakening Iraqi and Syrian states. Even if Turkey no longer has direct control over these lands, it hopes to at least indirectly re-establish its will through select partners, whether a group of moderate Islamist forces in Syria or, in northern Iraq, a combination of Turkmen and Sunni factions, along with a Kurdish faction such as Kurdistan Regional Government President Massoud Barzani’s Kurdistan Democratic Party. The United States may currently be focused on the Islamic State, but Turkey is looking years ahead at the mess that will likely remain. This is why Turkey is placing conditions on its involvement in the battle against the Islamic State: It is trying to convince the United States and its Sunni Arab coalition partners that it will inevitably be the power administering this region. Therefore, according to Ankara, all players must conform to its priorities, beginning with replacing Syria’s Iran-backed Alawite government with a Sunni administration that will look first to Ankara for guidance.
However, the Turkish vision of the region simply does not fit the current reality and is earning Ankara more rebuke than respect from its neighbors and the West. The Kurds, in particular, will continue to form the Achilles’ heel of Turkish policymaking.
In Syria, where the Islamic State is closing in on the city of Kobani on Turkey’s border, Ankara is faced with the unsavory possibility that it will be drawn into a ground fight with a well-equipped insurgent force. Moreover, Turkey would be fighting on the same side as a variety of Kurdish separatists, including members of Turkey’s Kurdistan Workers’ Party, which Ankara has every interest in neutralizing.
Turkey faces the same dilemma in Iraq, where it may unwittingly back Kurdish separatists in its fight against the Islamic State. Just as critical, Turkey cannot be comfortable with the idea that Kirkuk is in the hands of the Iraqi Kurds unless Ankara is assured exclusive rights over that energy and the ability to extinguish any oil-fueled ambitions of Kurdish independence. But Turkey has competition. Iraqi President Jalal Talabani’s Patriotic Union of Kurdistan is not willing make itself beholden to Turkey, as did Barzani’s Kurdistan Democratic Party, while financial pressures continue to climb. Instead, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan is staying close to Iran and showing a preference to work with Baghdad. Meanwhile, local Arab and Turkmen resistance to Kurdish rule is rising, a factor that Baghdad and Iran will surely exploit as they work to dilute Kurdish authority by courting local officials in Kirkuk and Nineveh with promises of energy rights and autonomy.
This is the crowded battleground that Turkey knows well. A long and elaborate game of “keep away” will be played to prevent the Kurds from consolidating control over oil-rich territory in the Kurdish-Arab borderland, while the competition between Turkey and Iran will emerge into full view. For Turkey to compete effectively in this space, it will need to come to terms with the reality that Ankara will not defy its history by resolving the Kurdish conundrum, nor will it be able to hide within its borders and avoid foreign entanglements.
|October 2, 2014 | 1751 GMT|
The Turkish parliament authorized the deployment of troops to Iraq and Syria on Oct. 2 to fight Islamic State militants and other jihadist groups. The decision expands upon a 2013 authorization that allowed Turkey’s armed forces to conduct cross-border operations into Syria and Iraq to attack the Syrian army and militant Kurdish forces if its national security were threatened. The motion was opposed by lawmakers from the opposition Republican People’s Party and Peoples’ Democratic Party. Ankara has worried that engaging the Islamic State would make Turkey a target for the militant group.
|October 1, 2014 | 1341 GMT|
|September 30, 2014 | 1210 GMT|
The Turkish government will be discussing whether to send troops to Iraq and Syria and may pass a resolution before the Oct. 4 Eid Al-Fitr holiday, Speaker of the Turkish Grand National Assembly Cemil Cicek said, The Daily Sabah reported Sept. 30. Turkey has a vested interest in combatting the Islamic State but has been reluctant to join U.S. efforts in the region.
|September 24, 2014 | 1134 GMT|
The U.S. army is preparing to deploy a division headquarters to Iraq, Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno said, Army Times reported Sept. 24. Division headquarters are composed of 100 to 500 soldiers, and that deployed to Iraq will be responsible for coordinating the efforts of the 1,600 troops that have been sent to the country for advising and assisting the Iraqi Security Forces. It will also provide extra security, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities.
The United States, joined by five Arab allies, launched an intense campaign of airstrikes, bombings and cruise-missile attacks against the Islamic State and another militant group in Syria Monday night – marking the first U.S. military intervention in Syria since the start of that country’s civil war in 2011.
U.S. Central Command (Centcom) said in a statement released early Tuesday that 14 Islamic State targets were hit, including the group’s fighters, training camps, headquarters and command-and-control facilities, and armed vehicles. The operation involved a combination of fighter jets, bombers, Predator drones and Tomahawk missiles launched from the Red Sea and Persian Gulf.
“We’re going to do what’s necessary to take the fight to this terrorist group,” President Obama said Tuesday, before traveling to New York for meetings at the U.N. He cautioned that the effort “will take time.”
Lt. Gen. William Mayville Jr., director of operations for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, described the operation as “the beginnings of a sustained campaign.” The strikes in Syria “destroyed or damaged” multiple targets, according to the U.S. military, which reported “all aircraft safely exited the strike areas.”
The mission was not limited to hitting Islamic State positions. Centcom said that U.S. aircraft also struck eight targets associated with another terrorist group called the Khorasan Group, made of up Al Qaeda veterans. Those strikes, near the northwestern Syrian city of Aleppo, targeted training camps, a munitions production facility, a communication building and command-and-control facilities.
Centcom said the Khorasan Group was involved in “imminent attack plotting against the United States and Western interests.”
The military strikes come less than two weeks after Obama, on Sept. 10, authorized U.S. airstrikes inside Syria as part of a broad campaign to root out the militants. The strikes ostensibly put the United States, for now, on the same side as Bashar Assad, the Syrian strongman whose ouster Obama once sought — though the Assad regime was not involved in Monday’s strikes.
Syria’s Foreign Ministry told the Associated Press that the U.S. informed Syria’s envoy to the U.N. that “strikes will be launched against the terrorist Daesh group in Raqqa.” The statement used an Arabic name to refer to the Islamic State group, which is more commonly known as ISIS or ISIL.
State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki made clear in a statement Tuesday that the U.S. “did not request the regime’s permission” and had warned the Syrian government “not to engage U.S. aircraft.”
“We did not coordinate our actions with the Syrian government,” she said.
U.S. officials said that the airstrikes began around 8:30 p.m. ET, and were conducted by the U.S., Bahrain, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates. The first wave of strikes finished about 90 minutes later, though the operation was expected to have lasted several hours.
“We believe we hit, largely, everything we were aiming at,” Pentagon spokesman Rear Adm. John Kirby told Fox News. Kirby said the military made the decision to strike early Monday.
The operation involved 47 Tomahawk Land Attack Missiles launched from the USS Arleigh Burke and USS Philippine Sea. Officials told Fox News that B-1 bombers, F-16 and F-18 fighters, and Predator drones were also used. The F-18s flew missions off the USS George H.W. Bush in the Persian Gulf.
Obama, in announcing plans for an expanded campaign against ISIS earlier this month, said: “I have made it clear that we will hunt down terrorists who threaten our country, wherever they are. That means I will not hesitate to take action against ISIL in Syria, as well as Iraq.”
The following day, at a conference with Secretary of State John Kerry, key Arab allies promised they would “do their share” to fight the Islamic State militants. The Obama administration, which at a NATO meeting in Wales earlier this month also got commitments from European allies as well as Canada and Australia, has insisted that the fight against the Islamic State militants could not be the United States’ fight alone.
Until now, U.S. airstrikes have been limited to specific missions in northern Iraq, where 194 missions have been launched since August 8. Lawmakers and military advisers, though, had stressed for weeks that any campaign against the Islamic State would have to include action in Syria, where the militant network is based.
“To defeat ISIS, we must cut off the head of the snake, which exists in Syria,” Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, said in a statement late Monday. “I support the administration’s move to conduct airstrikes against ISIS wherever it exists.”
A senior official told Fox News that Obama was briefed by military officials on the operation throughout the night. Earlier in the evening, the president spoke to House Speaker John Boeher, R-Ohio, and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. A White House official also updated House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., on the progress of the airstrikes.
Because the United States had stayed out of the Syria conflict for so long, the Obama administration had spent the last several weeks scrambling to gather intelligence about possible targets in Syria, launching surveillance missions over the country last month.
Syrian activists reported several airstrikes on militant targets in the northern city of Raqqa, ISIS’s main base. One Raqqa-based activist, speaking on condition of anonymity, told AP that the airstrikes lit the night sky over the city, and reported a power cut that lasted for two hours.
The head of the main Western-backed Syrian opposition group, Hadi Bahra, welcomed the commencement of airstrikes in Syria.
“Tonight, the international community has joined our fight against ISIS in Syria,” he said in a statement. “We have called for airstrikes such as those that commenced tonight with a heavy heart and deep concern, as these strikes begin in our own homeland. We insist that utmost care is taken to avoid civilian casualties.”
Centcom said that other airstrikes hit ISIS targets near the Syrian cities of Dayr az Zawr, Al Hasakah, and Abu Kamal. Also, the U.S. carried out four airstrikes against ISIS in northern Iraq, southwest of the city of Kirkuk.
Military leaders have said about two-thirds of the estimated 31,000 Islamic State militants were in Syria.
Some officials have expressed concern that going after Islamic State militants in Syria could inadvertently help Assad, since the militants are fighting in part to overthrow Assad.
Urged on by the White House and U.S. defense and military officials, Congress passed legislation late last week authorizing the military to arm and train moderate Syrian rebels. Obama signed the bill into law Friday, providing $500 million for the U.S. to train about 5,000 rebels over the next year.
The militant group, meanwhile, has threatened retribution. Its spokesman, Abu Mohammed al-Adnani, said in a 42-minute audio statement released Sunday that the fighters were ready to battle the U.S.-led military coalition and called for attacks at home and abroad.
Fox News’ Jennifer Griffin, Justin Fishel, Ed Henry, Chad Pergram and the Associated Press contributed to this report.
A salvo of 47 Tomahawk land attack cruise missiles, fired from U.S. destroyers in the Red Sea and Persian Gulf, preceded United States-led airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria, Sept. 22. The initial operation was conducted without a Western ally, although heavily supported by allied Arab air force assets, reportedly from Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Jordan and Qatar — composing the largest combined Arab mission since the first Persian Gulf War. Shortly after the operation began, Israel downed a Syrian Sukhoi Su-24 jet fighter which it alleged violated its airspace over the Golan Heights. It was not clear if the shooting down of the jet, by an Israeli Patriot missile, was coordinated in any way with the U.S. strikes on Syria.
Operationally, the participation of numerous Gulf Arab countries (especially Jordan) greatly relieves the U.S. effort in Syria. Turkey has been largely unwilling to commit forces or to allow the United States access to its air bases for manned combat operations over Syria, limiting the United States to its air bases around the Persian Gulf. The active participation of Jordan allows for the potential use of forward operating bases on the Syrian border, the staging of combat search and rescue assets required to rescue pilots having ejected over Syria, and secondary airfields for landing aircraft with mechanical problems en route from their bases in the Persian Gulf. The active participation of a number of Arab countries with a total inventory of hundreds of advanced aircraft also enhances the overall capacity of the force amassed against the Islamic State.
The United States insists that no permission was sought from the Syrian regime for the airstrikes. In an attempt to avoid hostility between Syrian regime air defense assets and coalition aircraft, however, the United States has very likely initiated what is referred to as a de-conflicting process, in which prior warning would have been given to the regime in Damascus. In fact, Syrian state media reported shortly after the strikes began that warning of the attacks had been given to Syria’s permanent envoy to the United Nations.
The de-conflicting process will be significantly aided by the fact that the bulk of the Islamic State presence in Syria is located away from core regime positions in the west of the country. This ensures minimal contact between regime air defense assets and coalition aircraft, while the availability of airbases in Jordan and the Persian Gulf allows forces to avoid transit routes from the Mediterranean across heavy air defense zones in western Syria. The United States and its allies will be monitoring Syrian military forces very carefully, especially given the high tempo of Syrian air operations over eastern Syria in the last few months. For operations too close to regime surface-to-air missile batteries, the United States could elect to rely on more survivable stealth aircraft such as the F-22, which are reportedly already engaged in the Syrian strikes. If the United States makes such a choice, it will be the first time the F-22 Raptor is used operationally in a ground attack role.
Setting the Conditions
While not amounting to a full-scale “shock and awe” campaign such as those waged during the Gulf War and the 2003 Iraq War, the first wave of airstrikes occurred almost simultaneously across multiple points in Syria in order to maximize the effect of tactical surprise. The bulk of the air and missile strikes appeared to be concentrated in and around the city of Raqqa, which is the Islamic State’s self-proclaimed capital. Targets were hit across the country included Aleppo, Hassakah, Deir el-Zour and Abu Kamal. Scores of Jihadist positions were engaged, including command headquarters, supply depots, training camps, armed vehicles, supply trucks, former army bases seized by the group and logistical hubs close to the Iraqi border.
In an interesting expansion of the U.S. campaign against Jihadists in the Middle East, coalition aircraft reportedly also struck facilities used by a non-Islamic State affiliated jihadist group in Syria known as the Khorasan group. The group is reportedly led by Muhsin al-Fadhli and is directly linked to the al Qaeda core in Pakistan.
For weeks prior to the current airstrikes, the United States had been constantly flying intelligence, reconnaissance and surveillance flights over Syria, mapping out the militant group’s layout, structure and capabilities. These reconnaissance flights would have been critical in drawing up a list of potential Islamic State sites from which current targets could be allocated.
While air and missile strikes alone will not destroy or even comprehensively degrade the Islamic State in Syria, they will seriously degrade its ability to mass forces for offensive operations, hurt its financing and logistical efforts and aid local anti-Islamic State forces in their attacks against the group. Ultimately, the Islamic State will increasingly find itself on the defensive in Syria, especially as it receives pressure from multiple directions and its many enemies in Syria and Iraq. For the group to be defeated, however, a more comprehensive effort that extends beyond air power is needed. Local Sunni forces in Islamic State territory would need to turn against the group; the Islamic State’s resupply networks — including manpower and finances — would need to be shut off and indigenous forces, whether Syrian rebels in Syria or peshmerga and Iraqi forces in Iraq, would need to advance to reclaim territory from the group.