While the White House insists that U.S. troops will not return to Iraq in the combat role they played for eight years starting in 2003, a 130-member force has been deployed to assess the scope of the humanitarian crisis in the Kurdish region targeted by Islamic extremists.
Thousands of Iraqi civilians remain trapped on Sinjar Mountain and are in dire need of food, water and other assistance.
U.S. cargo planes began dropping supplies this week, while fighter jets have been targeting fighters of the Islamic State militant group. Washington also is exploring ways of increasing military assistance to the Kurds, whose militia is outgunned by the extremists.
The 130 Americans deployed as assessors are on top of the 90 U.S. military advisers already in Baghdad and 160 in a pair of operations centers — one in Irbil and one in Baghdad — working with Iraqi security forces. That cadre is in addition to about 455 U.S. security forces and 100 military personnel working in the Office of Security Cooperation in the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad.
Such involvement by the United States is necessary, given the Islamic State’s targeting of Kurdistan in the north and the uncertain political situation in Baghdad with the appointment of a new prime minister.
Iraqi President Fouad Massoum selected Haider al-Abadi, a veteran Shiite politician, to replace Nouri al-Maliki, also a Shiite who has been responsible for much of the sectarian violence because of his unwillingness to include Sunnis and Kurds in the government.
Al-Abadi, who has the support of President Obama and other world leaders and has been urged by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon to move quickly to form a coalition government, is poised to take office.
Al-Maliki, who has been in prime minister for eight years, was unwilling to go quietly and had vowed to stay and fight. On Thursday, however, he announced he would step down.
Against this backdrop, Obama was right in intervening to protect the autonomous region of Kurdistan against a takeover by the Islamic State extremists, who have brutally attacked religious minorities, including Christians.
Given that the United Nations declared the region a “safe haven” after former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein had massacred thousands of Kurds using chemical weapons, the Security Council needs to do more than express its sympathy for the minority ethnic groups.
The Yazidis and others are being hounded by Islamic State (the former Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) fighters.
The “safe haven” declaration created a no-fly zone and was designed to prevent a repeat of the Kurdish massacre.
President Obama is pursuing the right course of action considering there is no guarantee of the sectarian violence ending if U.S. troops are returned to Iraq in the numbers necessary to keep the factions separated from each other.
The only hope for that war-torn country lies in a political solution in which the Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds share power. Once they are invested in the future of the country, they would then have a common enemy — the Islamic State and other extremists groups that are determined to impose Sharia law throughout the Middle East.
The U.N. Security Council must act quickly to bolster the U.S. humanitarian effort in Kurdistan and figure out how to protect the ethnic minorities in Iraq.