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The US Has Reluctantly Started Bombing Iraq Again

US jets bombed two Islamic State targets near Erbil — a first effort to stop what President Obama called the "genocide" of Iraqi minorities.
Photo via US Navy/Travis K. Mendoza

US military jets bombed two Islamic State targets in Iraq on Friday — the first steps on a return to involvement in the collapsing country that many Americans hoped to never see again.

The attacks, which hit artillery used by the Sunni militants against Kurdish forces defending Erbil — within reach of US personnel, officials said — came shortly after President Obama authorized airstrikes to stop what he described as the “genocide” of Iraqi Christian minorities at the hands of the rapidly advancing Islamic State fighters.


US military aircraft conduct strike on ISIL artillery. Artillery was used against Kurdish forces defending Erbil, near US personnel.

— Rear Adm. John Kirby (@PentagonPresSec)August 8, 2014

US officials, who had been pondering a response to the gains made by militants during the last few days, also began humanitarian air drops of supplies to thousands of members of the Yazidi minority stranded on Mount Sinjar, where dozens have died in the last few days due to a lack of food and water.

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"Earlier this week, one Iraqi in the area cried to the world, 'There is no one coming to help,'" the president said in a televised statement on Thursday. "Well, today America is coming to help."

— Rear Adm. John Kirby (@PentagonPresSec)August 8, 2014

After the US started a decade-long war there, the president, just like many Americans, had hoped to stay out of Iraq. A June survey by Public Policy Polling showed that 74 percent of the American public was against sending soldiers back into the country, with only 16 percent in support of military action.

“I ran for this office in part to end our war in Iraq and welcome our troops home, and that’s what we’ve done,” Obama said, attempting to calm fears of a greater involvement to come. “I will not allow the United States to be dragged into fighting another war in Iraq.”

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But somebody had to do something, others said.

In recent days, Kurdish Peshmerga troops have struggled to contain the Islamic State’s fast advance, and were forced to withdraw from certain areas.

Kurdish officials on Thursday sent an international cry for military help as the militants pushed closer to Erbil, capital of the autonomous region where up to 300,000 Iraqis from different minorities have sought refuge since the Islamic State, then known as ISIS, launched its Iraqi offensive last June.

Even so, Kurdish fighters managed to create a corridor to rescue thousands of stranded Yazidis. The video below shows people being escorted to safety by Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG).

This footage shows the YPG helping members of the Yazidi population out of hiding on Sinjar Mountain.

Baghdad’s authorities have also been coordinating with their Kurdish counterparts in an attempt to repel the Islamic State’s gains on different fronts in the country, including by launching their own airstrikes.

But, so far, the response has hardly deterred the militants.

In a statement on Thursday, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon had called on “those with the influence and resources to positively impact the situation, to support the Government and people of Iraq and to do all it can to help alleviate the suffering of the population affected by the current conflict in Iraq."

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Mahmood Haji, an official at the Kurdish Interior Ministry, described the US strikes as "a victory for all the Iraqi people, for the peshmerga, and for America,” as reported by the Washington Post. “We need these airstrikes to destroy their bases and vehicles so the peshmerga can move forward.”

The two strikes hit Islamic State targets in Makhmour, about 35 miles southwest of Erbil, Haji said.

Follow Alice Speri on Twitter: @alicesperi