The president, in meetings with his national security team at the White House on Thursday morning, has been weighing a series of options ranging from dropping humanitarian supplies on Mount Sinjar to military strikes on the fighters from ISIS now at the base of the mountain, a senior administration official said…
The administration had been delaying taking any military action against ISIS until there is a new Iraqi government. Both White House and Pentagon officials have said privately that the United States would not intervene militarily until Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki stepped down.
But administration officials said on Thursday that the crisis on Mount Sinjar may be forcing their hand. About 40 children have already died from the heat and dehydration, according to Unicef, while as many as 40,000 people have been sheltering in the bare mountains without food, water or access to supplies.
The bad news is, Obama and his team have been kicking this idea around for at least two days with no movement yet. George Packer reported yesterday that he’d heard the day before from an administration official that they were weighing an airlift of humanitarian supplies to the Yazidis. Two days later, they’re still weighing it. Presumably, if they’re leaking to the Times now about deliberations, they’re finally planning on acting soon. A UN official told one paper that ISIS’s persecution of the Yazidis may already amount to genocide or crimes against humanity as they’re being exterminated on sight as infidels, without even the option to convert or pay jizya to reside in ISIS-occupied land. The last rumor I saw on Twitter was that Turkey’s air force is planning strikes on ISIS at the Kurds’ request; maybe that’s part of the hold up in the White House, to see if the military end of this can be outsourced to someone else.
Here’s a bit more from Packer. Even if the Yazidis are saved, what happens then?
Karim couldn’t help expressing bitterness about this. “I don’t see any attention from the rest of the world,” he said. “In one day, they killed more than two thousand Yazidi in Sinjar, and the whole world says, ‘Save Gaza, save Gaza.’”…
The aim of the Sinjar operation seems to be control of the Mosul Dam, the largest dam in Iraq, which provides electricity to Mosul, Baghdad, and much of the country. According to one expert, if ISIS takes the dam, which is located on the Tigris River, it would have the means to put Mosul under thirty metres of water, and Baghdad under five. Other nearby targets could include the Kurdish cities of Erbil and Dohuk. Karim reported that residents of Dohuk, inundated with refugees, felt not just a sense of responsibility for Sinjar but also alarm, and that they were stocking up on supplies in case of an attack.
That was published yesterday. ISIS took the dam this morning, although the fight for control is still raging. The group can either use the dam for energy, to power its new territory, or it can drown Iraq by blowing it up. Given the savagery they’ve shown already, replete with alleged beheadings of children, blowing the dam seems like a horrifyingly real possibility, especially if the tide of the war turns and the group wants to go out with a bang. Presumably that’s the real purpose of those looming Turkish airstrikes, dislodging ISIS from the area around the dam before they can secure it and start wiring the structure to take it down if need be. Exit quotation: “Even Genghis Khan … didn’t do this.”